Truth behind All Blacks myth

IT might not capture the imagination like the `Bring Back Buck' campaign, but another of rugby's great mysteries is a step closer to being solved.

While debate still rages why Shelford undefeated as captain in 31 games was dumped a year out of the doomed 1991 World Cup, most fans have come to terms with the nation's other great rugby debates.

We know, in 2008, that John Hart's decision to play the world's greatest fullback, Christian Cullen, at centre at the 1999 World Cup was misguided.

We know, whether it was deliberate or not, the All Blacks who played in the World Cup final in 1995 had food poisoning.

We know that every time Ian Kirkpatrick thinks of Keith Murdock he wishes he could go back in time and stop the big prop from being sent home from Wales in 1972.

And we know that Bob Deans did score that try against Wales in 1905 before Teddy Morgan dragged him back in the field of play.

We also know that the All Blacks were given their moniker after a mis-print in a 1905 match report.

Or do we?

The story passed on from generation to generation goes like this...

"After New Zealand beat Hartlepool in the 11th game of the tour, the Daily Mail reporter who covered most of their matches, J.A. Buttery, wrote that the whole team, backs and forwards alike, played with such speed and precision it was as if they were `all backs'. Somehow an `l' was inserted and the name became `All Blacks'."

But, it turns out, that the All Blacks were indeed the `All Blacks' before the 1905 tour.

Noted rugby historian Ron Palenski, in his new book All Blacks, Myths and Legends, reveals evidence that the All Blacks name was in use before the team arrived in Britain.

In June, 1904, the Sydney correspondent of the Evening Post in Wellington previewed the imminent arrival in New Zealand of the British team that had played in New South Wales. Assessing New Zealand's prospects, he wrote: `If the New Zealand forward team is as good as it ought to be, I think the chances favour the `all blacks'.

The phrase also appeared in the Auckland weekly newspaper, the Observer, earlier that month.

"It was a common practice in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for newspaper reports to refer to teams by their colours. "

Palenski has also found references to the New Zealand team as `the blacks' in the 19th century.

Writes Palenski: "That team toured Australia in 1893 and played a shake-down match against Wellington before departure. The Wellington Rugby Football Union Annual of 1894 in a reference to that match said: `The Blacks won . . .'

Later in the same report, the writer said: `The Blacks now played up with great determination . . . '

And while on tour in Australia the Auckland Weekly News' match report from the game against NSW mentioned `the blacks were the better team' while Auckland's Observer had a piece from a journalist saying `I expect to see the all blacks come out on top with a substantial majority.' "

So, what does this all mean?

In terms of the rugby world's best known nickname, the 1905-06 players were not the Originals after all.

All Blacks, Myths and Legends is on sale from July 1.

Sunday News