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With the anticipated arrival of the All-Blacks this November 1 to play the Eagles in Soldier Field, Chicago, it’s informative to recall the historic first-visit of the New Zealanders to the United States in 1906.
During 1905, the New Zealand XV completed a spectacular tour of the UK and France, winning 38 games and losing only once to Wales 3-0. Their spirited forward rush play surprised the more staid Rugby Union nations and clubs. It was this memorable tour that would begin the world’s acknowledgement of the rugby dominance by the All Blacks.
After mopping up the Home Country sides, the All Blacks traveled to France for that country’s first ever test match. Afterwards, (a 38-8 win), the much traveled New Zealanders wanted to go home.
But the Prime Minister, Richard Seddon, perceived that a mini visit to the United States would generate good publicity. He learned of the displeasure that many Americans (President Teddy Roosevelt and others) expressed about the violence of gird iron football. Perhaps, a rugby exhibition would revert the US back to its short-lived rugby days.
The All Blacks stopped in New York City to play a rag-tag group of ex-Pats in an informal match in Brooklyn.
The team headed west by train, to stop in San Francisco where two games were scheduled against British Columbia sides. (No Americans played rugby then in the Bay area.) Concurrent with these games was the ongoing progress of Stanford and California athletic departments to drop gridiron for the old rugby game.
In the first contest, New Zealand triumphed 43-6 (old scoring), which produced a favorable headline from The Daily Californian, “Rugby Football Proves Great Spectacle.”
In the rematch, the All Blacks routed the Canadians 65-6, demonstrating superior, open field running that appealed to the crowds.
Stanford and Cal were impressed and, in 1906, the schools began a nine-year switch to rugby for “The Big Game.”
The All Blacks accomplished what the Prime Minister had set out to do: show Americans the great rugby game.