June 26 1897
North beats South 16 – 3 in first inter-island match.
The first inter-island match was played in Wellington in 1897 as a trial to select the New Zealand team for a ten match tour to Australia in July. The North Island were convincing 16 – 3 winners. The next North v South match was played in 1902 and annually thereafter, apart from the World War years, until 1986, with a one-off game in 1995 and a fundraiser for the cash strapped Otago RFU in 2012.
The more formal rugby schedule that now applies, the increased demands on top players and the international competitions New Zealand is involved in leave no space, and reduced interest, for an inter-island fixture. But for a long period the North v South game was the next best thing to a test match with island parochialism heightening the interest.
As early as 1888 a South Island team played two matches team against the British tourists. A North Island team beat New South Wales in 1894. So, in a country of two islands of roughly similar size and an emerging competitive rugby culture it was perhaps inevitable that inter-island matches be played.
Over the years 80 inter-island matches have been played. North has won 50, South 27 and three have been drawn. On occasions, as in 1897, the North v South game has been played to assist with All Black selection, e g 1953 and possibly 1948. In the latter year there was a two week gap between the final trial and the inter-island match, but the team to tour to South Africa in 1949 was not announced until after the North v South match.
At times there were separate selection panels for the All Blacks and the island teams and the panels did not always agree on the merits of some players.
The North – South divide applied at other levels. In 1914 and 1953 North and South Island “B” team met as part of All Black trials. Teams from the North and South Island country unions went on tour in 1911 and 1912, the latter in 1920 as well. Minor Unions inter-island matches were played in 1928, 1939 and 1952. From 1936 New Zealand Universities staged an inter-island match for many seasons.
North 16. W Hardcastle, A L Humphries, W Roberts tries. Humphries penalty and 2 conversions.
South 3. P J Priest try.
Referee. J P Firth (Wellington).
Captains. Alf Bayly (Taranaki) and Jimmy Duncan (Otago) were the first inter-island captains.
You can’t hide!
A fond North-South memory, and perhaps an illustration of the interest in inter-island matches, is of the 1982 North v South match in Wanganui. During the game thick black smoke was seen coming from the direction of Wanganui’s industrial area. Soon the Ground Announcer “Would any firemen in the crowd please report to the station”.
A few minutes later a further announcement “Fireman X and Y (the names were given out), your engine is waiting at the main gates. Report IMMEDIATELY”.