The first recorded game of rugby in Thames was played in 1870 between a team from Auckland and a local team. The Auckland team of 13 named players arrived at the Tararu wharf in Thames on the ship the ‘Golden Crown’ and proceeded to Shortland, Western Thames, for the game. The Thames team consisted of 16 named players but it is not clear how many started the match for each side but in the event, the game ended in a scoreless draw and although it certainly wasn’t rugby as we know it today, no doubt the young men playing enjoyed the contest.
In these early games the rules were certainly different, with one of the aims to kick the ball
through the posts, not over a bar but beneath a tape stretched between the posts. Some kickers today probably wish that rule was still in the game!
There was no offside rule at that time, but players could run with the ball, bouncing it every five
yards and this was called the Melbourne rule and it remains to this day in Aussie Rules footie. This rule was done away with in New Zealand in 1871.
Early rugby in Thames was played very physically, with the second game played between Thames and
Auckland in 1871 being a very rugged affair.
W.Cussen of Auckland was knocked unconscious and taken to hospital where he was joined by Dunlevy of Thames being severely kicked in the groin.
Bull of Thames had two ribs broken and Jennings of Thames had two teeth knocked out. Reported as a good game which also ended in a scoreless draw.
At the time some wag wrote the following poem:
After the football is over, after the field is clear, Straighten my nose and shoulder, Help me to
find my ear!
There were changes in 1873 when the Thames Club decided to change to a different version of rugby
based on the rules of Wellington College in England. It was reported that this radical move involved a great deal of discussion in the hotels, taverns and other meeting places on the Thames Goldfields.
In 1893, blue and black were registered as Thames colours.
The first All Black to come from Thames was the great R.W.(Dick) McGregor who represented the
country against New South Wales in 1901. He toured with Dave Gallagher’s team to Australia in 1903 whom they beat 22-3 at the Sydney Cricket ground in what was New Zealand’s first full-scale international match. Other players were to follow in All Black teams and Provincial teams over the years since, with many others playing in various trials.
World War 2 was to see a lull in rugby activity in Thames and in the 1940/41 seasons there were no
senior teams playing. In the interim Junior teams were promoted to Senior but this changed when the boys returned from the war eventually and by 1946 rugby was again being played at strength in Thames.
Changes were to come to Thames in 1982 when two of the three Club teams left in the Thames Sub-union amalgamated to form United Hui Mai. This was followed in 1983 when Thames High School Old Boys also wished to join the amalgamation and this lead to the formation of the Thames Rugby and Sports Club as it is known today.
All three Clubs, Thames United, Hui Mai and Thames High School Old Boys still all have their
parochial supporters within the new Club and memorabilia from these Clubs is displayed throughout the present Clubrooms.
The Club’s teams currently play in the Thames Valley Rugby Union’s competitions but that hasn’t
always been the case, having early associations with the Auckland Union. The Club has also had a long association with the New Zealand Barbarian Rugby Club who played their first game in New Zealand in 1937 at Thames.
The Club has an ambitious project in mind to replace the present Grandstand at Rhodes Park,
opened in 1948, with a new Grandstand and Clubrooms with changing rooms etc. below and it is hoped to complete this within the next few years.
The Thames Rugby & Sports Club has a long history of providing excellent hospitality to rugby teams, supporters and visitors and you can always be assured of a warm welcome at our Clubrooms.
Life Member & Club Historian, Errol Kingsbury