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THE FORGOTTEN FAILURES

3 June 2024
barbarians v new zealand
Bryan Habana has gassed Ben Smith and is on his way to a hat-trick for the 2009 UK Barbarians against the All Blacks, the last non-Test defeat for the latter.

Campbell Burnes dived into the record books to highlight some dark All Blacks defeats that have been forgotten because they were not Test matches.

The mighty All Blacks have lost just 178 times in 140 years since a national rugby team was first assembled in 1884.

No less than 125 of those defeats have come in Tests. We know about many of them, indelibly imprinted on our brains, some glorious and inglorious reverses, any Rugby World Cup loss, the last defeat at Eden Park to the mercurial 1994 French.

But what of those that have faded in the mists of time? Why did New Zealand, a full 12 years before the All Blacks moniker stuck, lose 25-3 to New South Wales in Sydney back in 1893? What the hell happened in Newport in ’63 and Llanelli in ’72 or, gulp, Penrith in ’92, possibly the worst All Blacks display in history, or at least since the advent of television? How did the 1990 All Blacks, who spanked France in the two-Test series, twice came a cropper in Toulon and Bayonne to hastily assembled outfits?

This scribe does not have all the answers, but it is fascinating to note certain things, such as the fact that Wellington has beaten the All Blacks six times and yet Scotland has yet to get off the mark against New Zealand. Or the fact that New South Wales has beaten the All Blacks on no less than a dozen occasions, six times in the 1920s alone when they were flying the Australian rugby flag. Indeed, Australia still counts many of these NSW-All Blacks games as bonafide Test matches, which is why our overall records always differ.

Most of the All Blacks defeats to NZ provinces came just before they set out for long tours or upon their return. So they were invariably below their best, mentally and physically. But they still counted in the record books.

The seminal Men in Black is very useful for Test matches, so not useful at all for researching non-Tests by the All Blacks. Instead, we must head to the trusty Centenary: 100 Years of All Blacks Rugby, published in 1983 and authored by Rod Chester and Nev McMillan, for most of our information.

What we can deduce is that in 1893, the New Zealand team, still 12 years away from being known as the All Blacks, was touring Australia and playing its fifth match in 11 days when it faced NSW for the second time. Apparently, the tourists could not blame the weather, which was fine, but had to defend like Trojans in the face of some “brilliant passing” by the locals. This was the first defeat by New Zealand in nine years and 15 matches. It would taste defeat five more times until the All Blacks moniker stuck.

We thought it would be appropriate to highlight six of the most ‘memorable’ ensuing reverses in non-Test matches. You may have other ‘favourites.’

Read the full story in our June issue - out now!

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