How important is rugby to New Zealand?
It’s our national sport, our obsession, a huge part of our overseas reputation and worth billions to us.
The All Blacks are considered one of the most successful teams in history. And our amazing Black Ferns are hard on their heels.
The honour of bringing rugby to New Zealand belongs to Charles John Monro.
Monro was born on April 5, 1851, in Waimea West, near Nelson to politician Sir David Monro and his wife Dinah. Monro attended Nelson College until 1865 then in 1867 went to Christ’s College at Finchley near London. He was aiming for an army career.
It was at Christ’s that he discovered rugby where he played for the second VX.
Then in 1870 he organised the first rugby game ever played in New Zealand - between Nelson College and Monro’s own club at the Botanics ground at 2pm May 14, 1870. He had persuaded the Nelson Football club (who played either soccer or an Australian rules game) to change to the rugby code.
About 200 curious people turned out to watch. Monro’s club side won 2-0.
Monro set about establishing rugby - organising, selecting and coaching a Wellington team while playing for a Nelson team and even refereeing the first game played in the North Island in Petone on September 12, 1870.
Clubs began springing up around New Zealand with a provincial union starting in Canterbury and Wellington in 1879 then the New Zealand Rugby Football Union starting in 1892.
Monro travelled a lot for years, living in both England and in Europe before returning to New Zealand and marrying Helena (Lena) Beatrice Macdonald in 1885. They had five children.
He bought land near Palmerston North and ironically had by then stopped playing, not retaining much interest in the game. But it wasn’t his only first. He took part in the first polo match in 1871 as well as playing golf, croquet, billiards and snooker.
Monro died in Palmerston North on April 9, 1933 and was buried in Kelvin Grove Cemetery.
A statue of him stands outside the Te Manawa Musuem of Art, Science and History.
Fran and Deb's updates