LEAVE MR BROWNLIE ALONE!

Ranfurly Shield holders Hawkes Bay were relatively untroubled in repelling six challenges in 1925. But a remark by the referee in the 31 -12 defeat of Southland on 8 August was seized on by the media and became one of New Zealand’s rugby legends.


Maurice Brownlie, member of the "Invincibles" All Blacks side of 1924/25 and one of the leading players in New Zealand.

“The Southland match will be forever remembered for the remark the Auckland referee Bill Meredith made to one of the Southland forwards, Bill Hazlett later to be an All Black. It was a particularly robust match and Hazlett, then a brawny 19-year-old, was in the thick of it. At one point, apparently, he became embroiled with the great Maurice Brownlie. Meredith stopped play and admonished Hazlett thus: “Now then, Hazlett, you leave Mr Brownlie alone.” The remark was leaked to the Press and was published all over New Zealand, prompting “Truth” to publish this poem entitled “A Southland Saga”:


19 year old Bill Hazlett became involved in a tussle with All Black great Maurice Brownlie. Later Hazlett became an All Black too.

“The Southerners all stood a-trembling with fear
As the referee strode up the ground,
In Richardson’s eye stood a glittering tear
His emotion, though deep and profound,
Could find no expression in gesture or word —
Could his team such an error atone?
And this was the sentence the Southerners heard:
“You leave MISTER Brownlie alone!”

As Maurice came down at the head of a rush,
Young Hazlett dived in at his knees,
His skipper reproved him, “Young fellow, don’t brush into
Maurice, I beg of you please
You may may tackle Falwasser, or Grenside or Mill
But surely you ought to have known
You may jump on Bill Irvine or Nepia kill;
But— you leave MISTER Brownlie alone!

The crowd on the bank were quite merry arid gay;
And they cheered themselves hoarse with delight,
And they gladly predicted a win for the Bay,
And filling of tankards at night.
But look. He is down, Who has rashly presumed?
From the “fans” comes a sorrowful moan,
When up swaggered Bill, and then angrily fumed;
You leave MISTER Brownlie alone!”

But Maurice just grins and caresses his shin,
Then jumps for the ball on the line;
Down the field like a flash in a rattling good dash,
With his team-mates all backing up fine,
But he suddenly gasps, as he lands on his head
And says in a comical tone,
“Now didn’t you hear what the referee said?
Just buzz off, and leave me alone.”

So all other forwards take warning from me,
When you meet the Bay team at its best,
In the heat of the fray, should you mix it that day,
Don’t put your prowess to test.
Be gentle; don’t tackle your foeman too hard,
Lest the sideline unto you be shown.
The goal-line your fullback can easily guard;
And you — leave MISTER Brownlie alone!

Bill Meredith was a brother of Vincent (later Sir Vincent) Meredith, a distinguished Auckland rugby coach and administrator and brilliant lawyer who managed the 1935-36 All Blacks in Britain and France. Bill Meredith, who had charge of many of the Hawke’s Bay shield matches, must have been quite a character on the rugby field. Apparently, he believed in keeping the crowd entertained and had more hand gestures than a traffic cop directing traffic. However, he was not the only memorable refereeing character of the period. Hawke’s Bay itself had a delightful personality in Bill O’Neill. At the final dinner of each season Jackie Blake recalls that it was his custom to present his whistle as his retiring gesture to the opposing captain. The only thing was that he seemed to “retire” every season. During the heat of one shield match O’Neill was asked whose ball it was for the put-in to the scrum. His reply may have raised some question of his impartiality in some quarters. “It’s our ball, OUR ball,” he said pointing in Hawke’s Bay’s direction.”

From “SHIELD FEVER” by Lindsay Knight.Pub. 1980 by Rugby Press Ltd p 28-29.