[Audio archive] They still speak in Wales
of the New Zealand-Wales match of 1924, and one of Nēpia’s remarkable feats. Three or
four Welshmen had the ball at toe and were tearing down the field with only Nēpia in
front of them. They had him cold, or so they thought. But sizing things up, Nēpia coiled
himself, and dived head-first into them, turned a couple of summersaults, landed on his feet,
and raced up-field with the ball, leaving two Welshmen knocked out, and one of them
was the Welsh captain Jock Wetter. [Narrator] McLean Park is the home of Hawke’s
Bay rugby. The park is named after Scotsman Sir Donald McLean, who was the government’s
chief land purchaser during the nineteenth century. Maclean also ran a large sheep station
at Maraekakaho, west of Hastings. The park stands on land donated by MacLean’s son, Douglas
Maclean, an accomplished sportsman who once cycled all the way from Napier to Wellington
on a penny-farthing bicycle. The Hawke’s Bay Rugby Football Union is the
oldest provincial union outside the four main centres. The ‘Magpies’, as Hawke’s Bay teams
are known because of their black and white uniforms, have a proud record of holding the
country’s premier rugby trophy, the Ranfurly Shield. In 1921, McLean Park was the site of the first-ever
international game played at home by the New Zealand Māori team. Their opponents were
the Springboks, and a visiting South African reporter was horrified to see Pākehā, or
Europeans, in the crowd supporting a Māori team. [South African journalist (actor’s voice)]
Bad enough having to play a team officially designated New Zealand Natives, but the spectacle
of thousands of Europeans frantically cheering on a band of coloured men to defeat members
of their own race was too much for the Springboks who were frankly disgusted. [Narrator] During the 1920s, the Magpies had
a particularly successful Ranfurly Shield run. They scored 720 points in 24 successful
Shield defences and conceded just 204. Though the team contained many star players, much
of their success was due to Norm McKenzie, their astute selector and coach. Hawke’s Bay gained the shield in 1922 with
a shock 19-to-9 victory over a highly fancied Wellington team. McKenzie had assembled an
excellent squad after scouring the province for men with individual brilliance who could
also become effective team players. Thanks to a brilliant backline containing a number
of players who went on to become All Blacks, Hawke’s Bay became New Zealand’s top provincial
team over the next five seasons. The forwards were also well represented at All Black level
through the famous Brownlie brothers, Cyril and Maurice. During 1926 Hawke’s Bay dispatched some of
New Zealand’s finest teams with ease — Wellington by 50 points, Auckland by 30, and Wairarapa
by over 60. However, over the next summer, the Magpies
were rocked by a number of departures. In the first challenge of the 1927 season, Wairarapa
grabbed the Shield with a hard-fought 15–11 win. Hawke’s Bay legend George Nēpia was one of
Hawke’s Bay’s players to make the famous 1924/25 All Black touring team known as ‘The Invincibles.’
Nēpia is recognised as one of the finest fullbacks ever, but played his last test match
aged only 25. His retirement was spurred by injuries, financial problems during the Great
Depression, and disillusionment over not being selected for the 1928 All Black team to tour
South Africa, simply because he was Māori. Though Hawke’s Bay briefly held the shield
in 1934, Bay supporters had to wait until 1966 for another successful reign. After beating
Waikato at the end of the 1966 season, shield fever descended onto the Bay as the Magpies
successfully defended the shield 21 times until finally relinquishing it in 1969. The
team was coached by the meticulous Colin Le Quesne and captained by the famous flanker,
Kel Tremain. Tremain was a try-scoring machine. In 268
first-class matches he scored 136 tries, a record not beaten by another forward until
Zinzan Brooke in the 1990s. Today the Magpies play in the top level of New Zealand’s provincial
competition.

Hawke’s Bay rugby – Roadside Stories
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