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No. 24 (October 1958)
– 50 –

SPORTS
MAORI RUGBY IN AUSTRALIA

The Maori rugby team has returned from its tour of Australia satisfied that it has restored the prestige of Maori football and that the pride of a people in their heritage can win rugby matches like anything else. It was not only one of the most successful tours by a Maori team but also one of the most enjoyable. The team drew with Australia in the test series and lost one of the ten remaining matches.

Although it was a very hard tour, Keith Davis spoke for the team when he said it was the most enjoyable any of them had experienced and one which did a great deal to rehabilitate Maori rugby. Future teams could be expected to produce that fast, open type of football which distinguished Maori play in days gone by.

R. F. Bryers, the Taumarunui schoolmaster and former Maori representative who coached the team, relied on the fact that Maori footballers do best in broken play and in producing the unexpected movement at the right time. He reminded the boys of this in all his team talks and it brought results. There were many occasions when Pakehas would have kicked the ball and the Maoris who had been influenced by pakeha tactics were tempted to do so too. But they were always reminded that they were playing Maori football by a voice beside them calling on them to “Keep the ball,” and would put that extra pace on, resulting in some of the lightning movements which delighted the Australian crowds.

Ron Bryer's team talks were unforgettable. He always “called a spade a spade” according to the players. His theme was pride of race and he never lost an opportunity to remind the team about it. Before the last test he told them how Rewi was prepared to die for the Maori people at Orakau. It was one of the best pieces of Maori oratory some of them had heard. So much did it stir the players that three of them were in tears at the finish—“tears of determination”, one man said, “to get out there and beat the Wallabies for the sake of Maori rugby”.

Pride and pleasure in the behaviour of the team on and off the field was expressed by the manager, Mr F. D. Kilby. Entertainment was confined to match nights and in between matches they trained “really seriously”. Nine of the players were nondrinkers and eight were non-smokers.

In return for the hospitality which was lavished on them the players visited a great number of schools and talked to the children about rugby and New Zealand. The schools were delighted. They also entertained their hosts with impromptu concerts which nearly brought the house down. Singing carried the team through a lot of difficulties. One of them was the seemingly constant travelling which became tiresome and could have affected the morale of the players. But the tour had no sooner begun than they formed themselves into a choir and no matter how tedious the journey somebody would start a song which restored lagging spirits just when they needed it.

They had their serious as well as their happy moments. One of the most anxious was the four days when Bill Gray lay in hospital with a broken leg and the doctors were undecided whether or not to amputate his leg. The happiest moment was when they found that the injury was not as serious as was expected and that it would respond to treatment.

Birthdays added that little personal note to the tour and made for comradeship and team spirit. Three members celebrated birthdays and a squad was detailed to turn on a birthday treat for each one of them. Then there were the birthdays of non-playing members. Mrs Walters, wife of the fullback, gave birth to a child when the team was in Sydney and in that spirit of generosity for which the players were noted, they contributed to a complete outfit for the baby. Then Albert Pryor's wife produced a son. Albert commemorated the tour and the popular captain, P. T. Walsh, by naming the boy Patrick Timothy Walsh Pryor. Mrs Pryor consented and the team responded by buying the Pryor baby a complete outfit too.

The Maori rugby team is likely to go down in history as one of the toughest ever to leave these shores. Major injuries robbed them of fighting strength but the extra load was shouldered by the remaining players. Walsh was a hero and idolised by his men. Although suffering from a knee injury he played in every match to keep up the confidence of the team. Bill Gray manfully bore his disability and the disappointment at not being able to play again this season. D. Mathieson, who broke an arm, was out training again soon after leaving hospital and handled the ball whenever possible, although it was strictly against doctor's orders.

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A Maori Youth Festival, organised by the Wellington Diocese of the Anglican Church, will be held in Wellington from October 24—27. There will be a debutante's ball, cultural competitions and a thanksgiving service to be attended by the Governor-General and the Prime Minister.