The days when real men wore knickerbockers

MALCOLM HOPWOOD
Last updated 09:00 04/01/2014

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When rugby internationals were played in the northern hemisphere in the 19th century, the referee wore a suit and bowler hat and waved a white flag.

The New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North has taken possession of a rare lithograph of a famous rugby painting depicting a forward struggle between England and Scotland about 1876.

The original painting by artists, Overend and Smyth, is missing but a few early lithographs were made in the 19th century. One was discovered on a Hunterville farm and is on loan to the Museum.

The lithograph shows an English player in white competing for the ball surrounded by Scottish forwards, one of whom appears to be ready to swing his fist.

There's little flesh visible. All the players have jerseys, long white knickerbockers, socks and boots without sprigs. The impeccable referee appears to be signalling a train or dressing for the theatre rather than controlling an early rugby test.

A Scottish player, "frozen in time" by the artists, is referred to as Mr Kit, the man who later developed the kitbag, probably first used to carry his rugby gear.

Two mounted police are in the rear in front of hundreds of spectators.

Museum director, Stephen Berg, said it filled a gap in the museum's Roots of Rugby gallery and will be on display this month.

He said when the painting was taken to Paris, it was believed to have caused such interest that several Parisian rugby teams were established shortly afterwards.

The lithograph, which is more than a metre wide and high, is one of 2,500 rugby treasures at the museum.

Recent acquisitions are All Black rugby jerseys from last season and the blazer from 1953-64 international, Ian Clarke

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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