The first Ranfurly Shield match.
In 1901 the Earl of Ranfurly, Governor of New Zealand, told the then NZRFU that he wished to present a trophy to the Union, of which he was patron. The Union, at its 1902 Annual General Meeting, decided it should be a challenge trophy and deemed Auckland, with the best provincial record that year, to be the first holder. Challenges were to be played on the home ground of the holder.
All of Auckland’s matches in 1903 were away fixtures, so it was not until August 6 1904, when Wellington travelled to Auckland, that the first challenge took place. The New Zealand Herald was there and reported:
“THE FOOTBALL SEASON
AUCKLAND v WELLINGTON
WELLINGTON WIN BY SIX POINTS TO THREE
AUCKLANDERS LOSE THE RANFURLY SHIELD
The annual match between the Rugby representatives of Auckland and Wellington was played at Alexandra Park on Saturday afternoon, when the weather conditions proved favourable, and an attendance numbering the best part of 9,000 assembled on the Epsom convincing ground to witness the meeting between these old rivals. All the electric cars available were placed in commission, but these, together with horse-drawn vehicles of every description, failed to meet the demands, and a considerable proportion of those who witnessed the match were compelled to walk to Epsom. Well before one o’clock hundreds of people had gathered at the foot of Queen-street with the object of catching cars before the rush set in, but even then it was no easy matter to find seats. Half-an-hour later waiters at the terminus were left lamenting as the more wary and far-seeing enthusiasts had caught the incoming cars at the stopping places en route, paying the additional fare in order to ensure a seat. Even then it was known that the main stand at Epsom was more than half full, and at two o’clock it was “standing room only”, while the auxiliary stands were rapidly approaching the complement. At twenty minutes past two p.m. the whole of the seating accommodation – making provision for close on 3,600 persons – was taken up, and thousands had gathered round the rails enclosing the playing field. Thence on till three o’clock arrivals of short stature busied themselves in erecting improvised stands, utilising everything on which they could lay hands, including a discarded shop counter and a dray. Some few had provided themselves with boxes, home-made stools, and folding chairs, and some fifteen or twenty minutes before the match commenced an ingenious individual, with an eye to business, arrived on the ground with a cartload of roughly made stools. These were retailed out at 6d each and sold as freely as hot-cross buns on Good Friday morning. The day’s takings (gate and stands) totalled £505, which amount constitutes a record for interprovincial matches.
The fact that the possession of the coveted Ranfurly Challenge Shield hinged on the issue of the struggle served to surround the game with an added interest. The shield has been held by Auckland since its presentation, and popular local opinion confidently asserted that this season’s representatives were quite capable of retaining it. Nevertheless the combination from the Empire City was held to be a very sound one, and lovers of the game anticipated a hard battle. As the teams lined out in the field the members were eagerly scanned. The visitors stripped in splendid condition, and looked a weightier lot than the local men. However, no fault could be found with the Aucklanders, except that Asher, the whilom (stet) hero of the football loving public, appeared to be badly lame. The history of the match is soon told. The play for the greater part of the time was the hard, close order, with only occasional flashes of open back work, and little that could be termed brilliant. Right up to the close of the first spell honours were about even, the balance if anything being in favour of the local team. Just before half-time was rung the visiting backs broke away from their own side of half-way, and McGregor, who formed the last link in the chain, raced to the Auckland fullback with the ball. Harrison tackled, but failed to grass his man, and the Wellington threequarter struggled over the line, and registered he first score for the visitors. During the first half of the second spell Auckland attacked vigorously, and from a scrum on the visitors’ line Kiernan wriggled across on the blind side of the scrum, making the scores even. About ten minutes before time was called the visitors carried the leather from neutral territory down to Auckland’s quarters, and kicked hard over the line, another try being scored by Grant, making the points: Wellington 6, Auckland 3, and thus the game ended, the Ranfurly Shield going to Wellington. The Garrison Band filled in the intervals with an enjoyable series of selections. W Wallace captained the Wellington team and R McGregor acted in a similar capacity for the Auckland representatives. The teams lined out as under:-
Auckland (blue and white): Fullback, W Harrison; threequarters, A Asher, P Gerrard, W E McKenzie; five-eighths, R McGregor (captain) and P Ward; halfback, H Kiernan; forwards, D Gallaher (wing), G Tyler, R Irvine, W Cunningham, G Nicholson, C Seeling, W Trevarthen, and W Joyce,
Wellington (black); Fullback, G Spencer; threequarters, J S Wilson, D S Gray, D McGregor; five-eighths, J Barber and W Wallace (captain); halfback F Roberts; forwards, W Hardham (wing), E Watkins, E Dodd, H Wright, J Calnan, T Cross, H Driscoll, and E Best.
Mr W Pitts, of the Auckland Referees’ Association, had charge of the whistle, and controlled the game most efficiently, his rulings being always accepted without the least demur. Messrs F J Ohlson (Auckland) and W E Hales (Wellington) were the line umpires.
This section omitted in the interests of brevity.
Summed up on the day’s play there was little to choose between the opposing teams, though the visitors showed better combination than the locals, and as far as the backs were concerned anything approaching brilliancy that was shown certainly lay with the Wellington “reps”. Their line kicking was a treat, their passing clean, and accurate in comparison, and their defence of the sound order. Moreover, both in attack and defence, each back seemed to be part of a well ordered system, and did his allotted share with neatness and precision. In marked contrast was the work of the Auckland back division. Taken generally their display was not attractive, and with one or two exceptions they have all given better exhibitions. Flashes of good form there were at times, but their work lacked finish, and the ability to score when opportunity offered seemed lacking. In fact, the blue-and-white backs hardly ever looked dangerous, and short, quick passes, well given and taken, were conspicuous only by their absence. The two forward teams were well matched. In line work and open play the local men outpointed the visitors, and with just a shade of luck our forwards might have made amends for the inferior play behind the pack. But what a falling off was there when it came to hooking the ball! In previous years we have been accustomed to seeing the ball hooked by our front-rankers and heeled out of the scrum with almost monotonous regularity. On Saturday the visitors secured the oval nearly every time. It was significant that when they had the option of a scrum or a throw-in from the line they invariably chose the former.
G Spencer, the visiting fullback, was not overtaxed with work, but saved smartly on one or two occasions, and did some good kicking. He played a useful game, but at times caused his supporters uneasiness by waiting for the bounce instead of taking the ball on the full. The visiting threequarters gave a very creditable display, McGregor and Scott-Wilson got few chances in attack, but the former’s pace stood him in good stead when he scored. He made one bad mistake and was penalised for tackling McKenzie offside. Gray put in a lot of work, and was a veritable stone wall in defence. His line-kicking was quite a feature of the match. The halves all played well, their handling of the ball and accurate passing being a treat to witness. They also punted judiciously to the touchline at times. Among the forwards Calnan was particularly noticeable in the open, while the front-rankers, Watkins and Dodd, quite outclassed the Auckland pair. Hardham, on the wing, worked hard, and got around smartly when Auckland secured the ball. He had hard luck in not scoring a try, but knocked on at the critical moment.
Harrison, at fullback for the local team, gave a satisfactory display. His fielding and kicking were on the whole good, and he showed cleverness on more than one occasion in beating the opposing forwards. His tackling lacked force and vim, and, like Spencer, he occasionally waited for the ball to bounce. Among the Auckland threequarters McKenzie stood out conspicuously. He did all that came his way in a workmanlike manner, and when given a chance in attack was always dangerous.. With a less reliable jersey he might have scored on one occasion. Gerrard was not conspicuous, but defended solidly. His passing was not always clean, and his kicking at times lacked power. The less said about Asher the better: in his state he should never have gone on the field. R McGregor and P Ward did an immense amount of work, but at times their passes were given badly. Ward was not as clever in cutting in on the attack as his comrade, but got off some good line kicking, Kiernan exhibited a good deal of his old cleverness in attack and made good openings when he got the ball. His try was about the cleverest bit of work during the match, but he was not too strong on rush-stopping. Among the local forwards Seeling is entitled to special mention. His following up and deadly tackling spoilt many an opening among the opposing backs, and his all-round work entitles him to rank among the best forwards in the colony. Nicholson played a hard, rushing game, being always conspicuous in the opening and on the line, while Gallaher, on the wing, proved a thorn in the side of the opposing backs, and played one of his best games.
The Wellington representatives left for New Plymouth by the S.S. Rarawa from Onehunga yesterday afternoon. They were accompanied by the Auckland members of the New Zealand team, Including R McGregor, who will in all probability take Wood’s place at five eighths in the colonial combination to play against Great Britain at Wellington next Saturday. About 1,000 people witnessed the departure of the players from Onehunga.”