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20 August 2014
John Roughan in the New Zealand Herald recently wondered if the All Blacks of today have lost the art of losing gracefully. The great Fred Allen was a hard man who drove his team's hard for test wins. Nothing else mattered but to win. His teams played tough for 80 minutes. Yet see how he lost so generously here in 1949 - with the South African captain Felix du Plessis. And Fred's team lost all four tests in a row on that tour!
It was tough times for the ABs at the Rugby World Cup in Cardiff. The alleged 'forward' pass by a Frenchman led to a try - and New Zealand headed homewards.
This was a game which was begun in New Zealand in 1897 and which became an annual one (with the exception of 1930 and the war years) until 1986, between teams representing the two main islands of New Zealand.
The inter-island series, North Island against South Island, was, through the 1920s right up to the early 1970s, consistently up to international standard. In its heyday, the game was eagerly looked forward to by everyone in New Zealand as it featured a match that often had the look of New Zealand ‘A’ against New Zealand ‘B’ (the ‘A’ team being the side which won!). Sometimes the game did officially double as an All Black trial.
In the 1970s lack of promotion of the game led to loss of interest. The New Zealand Rugby Union, after years of playing the inter-island game at major grounds, started moving it to lesser towns. Public support fell away and towards the end the game was marked by the number of top players who declared their unavailability rather than by those who did turn out. It was sad for New Zealand traditionalists when the match was abolished in 1987 and replaced by a three-way regional trial series featuring teams from three new zones, Northern, Central and Southern.
The last annual game in 1986 was typical of the decline of the North v South game. Played in the smasll town of Oamaru in the South Island, the game had a local college match as its curtain-raiser. When the college game finished, most of the crowds of local schoolchildren drifted away home, leaving the inter-island match to go ahead in front of a much smaller audience. The North Island won the game 22–10, ending the annual series with 49 wins. South had won 26 times and there were three drawn games.
The North-South game did return for special one-off games in 1995 and 2012. The former was an All Black trial and the latter was a fundraising game for the financially troubled Otago Rugby Union.
Ironically the inter-zone series which had followed the cancelled North-South series in 1986 had only three seasons of play before it, too, folded through lack of interest.
Piri Weepu played 71 tests for the All Blacks; how many times did he play for the full 80 minutes?