The Ratana Cup & Mid Canterbury Māori Rugby

For some, the approach of winter brings little joy. Short nights and cold days are nothing to get excited about but for many winter brings an opportunity to play, or at least watch, this country’s unofficial national game – rugby.

As most people know, rugby (or if you are old fashioned like me and still call it football) was established at Rugby School in the 1820s. Rugby was originally considered a game for ‘toffs’ as it was played at ‘public’ schools, such as Rugby and Eton. The term ‘public school’ is a misnomer as now they are all select and expensive, however these schools were initially established to educate poor boys so were truly ‘public’.

When the first settlers arrived in New Zealand, they played what they called football. Then, it was a rather haphazard collection of rules and ideas as few people had actually played it. For that reason it is a challenge to clearly trace the history of the sport.

While Nelson claims to have hosted the first ‘proper’ game in 1870 the teams had 18 men a side. Canterbury fans also claim to have played the first official game way back in 1863 and to have formed the first union in 1879.

What is definite is that the Ashburton County Union was formed in 1904, as a sub union of South Canterbury. It became a union in its own right in 1927, and in 1952 it changed its name to Mid Canterbury.

Ashburton Museum has fascinating material pertaining to rugby, and recently added another piece of the story to our collection. We are very grateful to Graeme Thomas, former manager of the Mid Canterbury Maori Rugby team, who has provided us with team and other photographs, as well as written a brief history of this short lived team.

1. 1980 team, we have no names for these men, can you help

The Ratana Cup

The Mid Canterbury Maori Rugby team was founded in 1978 and was based in the Old Boys’ clubrooms. The 1979 season saw the team play four games and amassed 113 ‘for’ points as opposed to 52 ‘against’. Such was their success it was decided to challenge Southland Maori for the Ratana Cup.

This cup, played for by Maori provincial sides in the South island, appears to have been originally called the Arepa Cup, and was donated by the prophet Tahupotiki Ratana, while on a tour of the South Island in 1934. Stopping off at Temuka he presented the cup to the winner of a match between the North and South Canterbury Maori.

In response to this gift, the Ngapuhi iwi added a greenstone mere to the competition. Both the cup and mere appear to have been combined and collectively called the Ratana cup after the prophet’s death in 1939. In 1934 it was on display in a Temuka shop window and The Press stated it was ‘an attractive example of the Maori art is its carved base inlaid with pawa [sic]’

2. 1982 team, winners of the Ratana Cup.

In 1979 the local team was warmly welcomed by the Southland community and over 5000 attended the match, in Bluff. While Mid Canterbury was not successful the experience was so positive that they made another challenge the following year, 1980. This time they were victorious – winning the match, and the cup, 22 points to 6. The trophy was proudly displayed in the Old Boys’ clubrooms.

The following year the trophy was won by Nelson, who in turn lost it to Canterbury Union. The challenge went out to Canterbury from Mid Canterbury and in 1982 the Mid Canterbury Maori again lifted the trophy.

3. The supporters were a very important part of team culture, here they are after the 1982 success.

While the team were winners, they were under pressure. Many players left the district, while others were snapped up by other rep teams. It was decided to disband the team while on a winning streak.

Before Mr Thomas contacted us, the Museum had no information about the Maori team and archives are scarce, even some of the team member’s names are unknown. Judging by the supporters photograph, there must be someone who can recall the team and its exploits. Ashburton Museum would be very interested to hear from you if you can add to this story, or identify the players.


By Kathleen Stringer


  1. Ray Church, Mason Tuki and Paul Williams with the Ratana Cup.
  2. 1980 team, we have no names for these men, can you help?
  3. 1982 team, winners of the Ratana Cup. L-R from back, R Solomon, H McDonald, A Meager, J Mudgway; L McDonald, C Thompson, R Waaka, H Gordon, G Thocolich, P Morunga, A Rei, T Pakai; W Mason, J Moffat, B Aranui, B Keepa, H Kaa, T Rawiri, S Winiata, A McDonald, , R Meager; A Mapu, H Bartlett, P Carrol, R Church, P Williams, F Tahuri, A Faith, M Tuki; Inset H Barlett, K Solomon. Absent J Leonard.
  4. The supporters were a very important part of team culture, here they are after the 1982 success. L-R from back, J Morounga, J McDonald, A Faith, N faith, B Arnst, B faith, P Wakefield, R Church, C Tahuri, J Tuki, A McDonald; D Keepa, P williams, S Williams, M Pakai, P Haami, M Mapu, S Bartlett, R Selfe, V Moffatt, H Rawiri, T Pakai; K Cavill, F Penny, M Wakefield, S Wakefield, P Rawiri, A Mapu, R Meager, M Tuki, A Keepa; P Wallace, J McAndrew, P Wakefield, S Meager, P Meager, J Moffatt. Absent H Rei.

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