Rugby: A New Zealand History

Ron Palenski

‘This book gets to the heart of New Zealand rugby. Ron Palenski shows that he understands what makes the game tick at all levels. It’s frank, to the point, the real story.’ – Sir Colin Meads


‘For anyone who is interested in looking beyond the names, the dates, the half-truths and the mythologies and entering the realm of rugby’s place in our history, this is a must-read.’ – Chris Laidlaw


‘From my point of view, and I guess a lot of other older rugby people who know a bit about the game, Ron Palenski has captured our history. It’s a valuable document, full of stories, and a good read too.’ – Sir Brian Lochore


Rugby is New Zealand’s national sport. From the grand tour by the 1888 Natives to the upcoming 2015 World Cup, from games in the North African desert in the Second World War to matches behind barbed wire during the 1981 Springbok tour, from grassroots club rugby to heaving crowds outside Eden Park, Lancaster Park, Athletic Park or Carisbrook, New Zealanders have made rugby their game.


In this book, historian and former journalist Ron Palenski tells the full story of rugby in New Zealand for the first time. It is a story of how the game travelled from England and settled in the colony, how Māori and later Pacific players made rugby their own, how battles over amateurism and apartheid threatened the sport, how national teams, provinces and local clubs shaped it. But above all it is a story of wing forwards and fullbacks, of Don Clarke and Jonah Lomu, of the Log of Wood and Charlie Saxton’s ABC, of supporters in the grandstand and crackling radios at 2 a.m. The story of rugby is New Zealand’s story.


Rooted in extensive research in public and private archives and newspapers, and highly illustrated with many rare photographs and ephemera, this book is the defining history of rugby in a land that has made the game its own.



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Ron Palenski is an author and historian, and is among the most recognised authorities on the history of sport, and especially rugby, in New Zealand. He has written numerous books, among them an academic study, The Making of New Zealanders, that placed rugby firmly as a marker in national identity.

August 2015, 270 x 224 mm, 462 pages, colour illustrations
Hardback, ISBN 978 1 86940 836 7, $69.99