April 28 1888

Great Britain open 1888 tour with win.

The first British team to play in New Zealand began their keenly awaited tour with a clear-cut 8 – 3 defeat of Otago, who were without their star player “Paddy” Keogh.

The 1888 Great Britain team.



For the first time in history a team of Rugby footballers have come over the seas some 16,000 miles to play a series of matches in the colonies; and they have fought and won their first battle on Otago soil. The match which was played on the Caledonian ground on Saturday afternoon has been talked about in New Zealand for many a long day, and for several weeks past the committee of the Otago Rugby Football Union have been busy making arrangements in connection therewith. The morning broke fine, with a warm sun and scarcely a breath of wind. Everything argued well for a successful match and a large gathering.

The trains from North and South brought a good number of country visitors into town, and hours before the match people were seen wending their way along the Anderson’s Bay road in order to be early on the ground and so secure a good vantage point from which to witness the struggle. It was predicted that the crowd would be the largest ever seen on an Otago football field, and so it turned out to be, for the numbers that crammed the stand, and lined the chains around the playing arena four deep, were quite unprecedented, not even excepting the famous Auckland match four years ago. Small boys and men who could not afford to pay clambered onto the top of adjacent fences, and one or two buildings in the vicinity ot the gasworks were black with spectators. The sum of £350 was taken at the gates, and it is estimated that nearly 8,000 persons witnessed the match.

As early as 9 o’clock it was evident in town that something unusual was going to take place, for the sidewalks were thronged with pedestrians, all going in the one direction—southward; while a large crowd assembled in front of the Grand Hotel to see the Englishmen embark in the six-in-hand drag that was to convey them to the ground. The men were not long in making their appearance on the ground, the local players in their dark blue uniforms being the first to take the field, amid the cheers of the onlookers. Then the Englishmen, prettily clad in the appropriate red, white, and blue, filed into the, field, and the cheering was renewed with increased vigour. The teams then cheered each other heartily, and proceeded to take up their positions.


Dr Smith, who has a world-wide reputation as both a Rugby and an Association player, took the field, wearing the colours of his university (Edinburgh) to umpire for the Home team; Mr W. D. Milne, of the University Club, held the flag on behalf of Otago; and Mr W. Wyinks, a well-known interprovincial and intercolonial player, who earned his cap many years ago was chosen to act as referee.

Morrison, the Otago captain, won the toss, and decided to play toward the south, with what little wind there was at his back. It was a quarter to 3 when the forwards, after a little preliminary chucking of the ball about filed out in line across the field to commence the battle. The Englishmen seemed to have the advantage in weight, but this was mainly owing to the dwarfing nature of the dark blue uniforms worn by the Otago players. As a matter of fact there was little difference between’ the weights of the respective teams, the English average being 12st 4lb, and the average weight of the Otago team 12st 1lb. The forwards were as nearly as possible evenly matched, the aggregate weight of the Englishmen being 111 st 131b, while the Otago nine totalled exactly one stone less.

The English captain kicked off at about a quarter to 3 o’clock, ………………………………………………

Note: The Otago Daily Times report of the run of play, is exhaustive and for the sake of brevity has been omitted. Otago scored first, a dropped goal to their captain Morrison. Kent then scored a try for Britain, making the halftime score Otago 3 Britain 1. Anderton (try), Speakman (two dropped goals) scored for Britain in the second half.


……………. the Englishmen victorious by 8 points to 3, or two goals and two tries to a goal.

The large crowd scrambled over the chains and across the ground, gradually dispersing to their homes. And so ended the greatest football match that has ever been contested on New Zealand soil. Very little now remains to be said. The game was a splendid one, the excitement being kept up till far into the second spell; and so far as an exposition of Rugby football was concerned, it was almost all that could be desired. The weak point of the Otago team, as has been said all along in these columns, was their passing and running. The play of the Englishmen in this respect was a treat to witness, and nothing like it has ever been seen here before. The passes were sharp and accurate, and the men rarely, if ever, failed to take them. They backed one another up splendidly, and sometimes passed back over their shoulders without looking, in the certainty that there was a man behind them —and there always was. In the second half, too. when the Otago forwards were weakened somewhat in consequence of the tactics adopted, the visitors screwed the scrums splendidly, carrying the ball along with an irresistible rush.

Their forwards all played well, and it is difficult to particularise, but Seddon, the captain, Eagles, Thomas, and Williams especially did yeoman’s service Their backs, taken all round, played well. Haslam at full-back did not come quite up to expectations, but he had not much collaring to do, and that is said to be his strong point. Speakman, of course, was the hero of the match, and he certainly played a fine game. His running, tackling, and passing were all good, and he picked up and kicked splendidly. Stoddart had not a great deal to do, but he gave the spectators an idea of what he could do in the way of dodging, running, and passing. He played with a thorough knowledge of the game, and when he saw that he was being closely watched sacrificed his chances by getting his half back to pass to Speakman. and the latter across to Anderton, who had most of the running to do. The last-mentioned player certainly distinguished himself, especially by his clean picking up and strong running. Both the half backs did their work well, Bumby especially excelling.

As has before been said, the weakness of the Otago team lay principally in their backs, and Keogh’s absence was much felt. Thomas did his work well, his kicking being really good. Of the others, Thomson was the best. He did a lot of work, and his running puzzled the opposing backs a good deal. His passing, however, was bad. Noel had not much to do, and it would have been much better had he played his own game instead of watching Stoddart. The forwards played remarkably well, and were quite a match for the visitors till their positions were changed in the second spell. Altogether the match was a most enjoyable one. The Englishmen were heartily congratulated upon their victory by friends and foes alike, and no one grudged them their hard earned laurels, after having come 16,000 miles over the ocean to play in New Zealand.

The arrangements in connection with the game were perfect, and the committee of the Rugby Union are to be congratulated upon the success of their labours. Mr Chapman in particular, under whose control the ground arrangements principally were, is deserving of special mention for the manner in which he worked. It was anticipated by some that there would be a crush at the gates, but notwithstanding the large crowd little or no inconvenience was felt. A posse of police under Sergeant Macdonell kept good order inside, and others engaged outside the fence prevented people gaining entrance surreptitiously to the ground. Only the Rugby Union officials and the representatives of the press were allowed inside the chains, the consequence being that there was not the slightest encroachment on the field of play.”


The teams.