Following the visit of the New Zealand Native Football Team or ‘Maoris’ in 1888/89 it was another 16 years before another Kiwi team toured the British Isles. On that occasion, in 1905/06 the visitors were, unlike the Maoris, a fully representative selection and are known to history as the First All Blacks.
In 1888/89 the tourists had played five fixtures in the Midlands including a game with Moseley and two against the Midland Counties, while the 1905/06 side paid only four visits to the area for matches with Northampton, Leicester, Midland Counties and a Bedford XV.
The game with the Midland Counties took place on 28th October 1905 at Welford Road, Leicester. Such was the interest in the fixture that seats in the stands sold out several days prior to the match and the Midland Railway ran special trains from London, Birmingham, Burton-on-Trent, Chesterfield, Derby, Lincoln, Loughborough, Northampton and Nottingham. The crowd at Welford Road was variously estimated at between 17,000 and 20,000 and receipts totalled £770.
There were two Moseley forwards in the Midland side, J.G. Cooper who would win two England caps in 1909 and C.H. Shaw who was to play for England on six occasions between 1906 and 1907.
Conditions on the day of the game were almost perfect for fast and open rugby and The Times was of the opinion that the match was ‘one of the finest exhibitions of Rugby football ever given in the Midlands.’ The New Zealanders responded to the favourable conditions by concentrating on attacking play and running risks with speculative passes while the home side, on the other hand, seemed content to keep their opponents’ score down. This attitude can probably be explained by the fact that coming into the game the tourists were still unbeaten after 12 games and had scored 428 points to ten.
The Midlands defended stoutly but seemed unwilling to take advantage of counter-attacks, which presented themselves. There was, however, a ten-minute period during the first half when the home defence faltered and during this time the New Zealanders scored three tries. Following this period of domination the Kiwis went into half time leading by 13 points to nil.
After the break the Midlands held their own and managed to score a try, which was converted by Cooper. There is some confusion over who scored this try for the Midland Counties. Some sources credit it to Leicester forward Russell; however, one of the touch judges, E.B. Holmes, a former Moseley forward and international referee, told the Daily Chronicle that Shaw was in fact the scorer.
Despite this comeback from the home team the tourists replied with two more tries but the Midlands were not outclassed during the second half and their forwards finished as strongly as those of their opponents. The final score was 21-5 in favour of the New Zealanders.
The tourists played a further 22 matches in the British Isles, France and Canada before returning home with a record of played 35, won 34, lost one, points for 976 and points against 59. The single defeat was at the hands of Wales (0-3) who scored a try that is still disputed to this day.
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