The following article appeared in Dunedin's Evening Star on April 13, 1928 in a special feature celebrating the departure of the 1928 team for their tour of South Africa
"Most followers of rugby probably think that the New Zealand Army team that toured Africa in 1919 was the first New Zealand side to display its prowess in the land of the veldt, and they will be interested to learn that a side of dominion players made its mark there in 1903.
It was after the Boer War that a number of young New Zealanders settled in South Africa and that sufficient of them came to live near Pretoria to allow of the formation of a modest social and sports club. Among the British, Dutch, and colonials there was much competition for appointments in the new civil administration, but the New Zealanders received quite a fair share. All hands settled down to work, and later to play. It was only to be expected that when a Rugby football competition was inaugurated that the New Zealanders should take stock of themselves and form a team. About seventeen, many with senior football experience in New Zealand, and some who had gamed interprovincial honors (sic), were found who were willing and anxious to try conclusions with the best the Transvaal could produce.
But the Transvaal Rugby Union flatly turned down the application, of the New Zealanders to be entered as a senior team. Considerable heart-burning followed, and representatives were sent to plead with the controlling body, who thought a few New Zealanders could hardly produce a team class (sic) enough to make anything like a respectable showing against the crack Transvaal teams. To prove to the New Zealanders that they were not class enough the T.R.U. invited them to play a game against ” The Diggers,” who had the champion team of the Transvaal.
In an amused but sporting manner, the New Zealanders accepted the challenge, it being agreed that if they made a reasonable showing they would be admitted to the inner circle. When the day of the great match arrived—it was played at Johannesburg—the New Zealand team could muster only fourteen players. The surprising result of this match, in which the New Zealand team was reduced to thirteen men in the second half, was that the Diggers, with a full team, scraped home by only 11 to 9. In the eyes of the T.R.U. it was as good as a win for the New Zealanders, who were admitted without delay to the senior grade competition.
During the 1903 season the New Zealand team, frequently playing short owing to the long distances that had to be travelled, won every match of the competition, when it was beaten by the Wanderers by a single try for the championship. The Wanderers held an unbeaten record for the season. An Auckland writer last year gave (from memory) the team which played in the first match as follows:—Full-back, J. Freeth (Wellington); three-quarters— Merle Bonnor (West Coast), Tom Baker (Hawke’s Hay), Pat Fitzherbert (Manawatu); five-eight, Jack Gatland; (Thames) ; half-back, Fritz Haselden Rangitikei); wing forwards, H. Knight (King Country), Willoughby Wilson (Auckland) ; forwards—Geoffrey Haselden (Rangitikei), Burton Taplin (Manawatu), Charlie Lewin (Christchurch), “Yorky” Smith (Auckland), Jock McGregor (Thames), “Toby” Foreman, (Taranaki). Others who played in the team were “Scotty” Peebles (Woodville), and W.H. Foster (Wellington). In a match against a side at Pretoria the British team of internationals me. a three-quarter line all New Zealanders.
The part which New Zealanders played in the development of African Rugby in another part of the country was referred to in an interesting article written for the ‘ Star ’ in 1921 (at the time of the Springboks’ visit here) by the late honorary secretary of Pietermaritzburg Rugby Union (a resident of Dunedin). He stated: ‘Members of the Tenth South African Contingent may remember the doings of their team, led by D. Gallagher (All Black captain). After easily defeating; the leading Transvaal teams, they met and defeated a representative Maritzburg team by a narrow margin.
On my arrival in Durban in 1903 I joined the New Zealand R.F.C. This 'club had commenced the previous year. Prior to that date Rugby enthusiasts could only muster occasional scratch teams. We played out on a mud flat, with a handful of spectators; but the New Zealanders had such an excellent team —we had Australians as members, too—and played such open and pretty football that gradually keen rivalry was started, other clubs were established, and eventually Rugby gained a footing at Lord’s, the big Durban sports ground.
“It was almost entirely due to the little band of New Zealand enthusiasts that Rugby became a popular game in Durban. The Durban New Zealanders were disbanded in 1907, but during their career they held the championship cup of Natal for five consecutive years, defeating the Pietermaritzburg Club on each occasion. During 1904 the South African College team, winners of the Cape competitions of that year, toured Africa, and defeated all the leading clubs in the Transvaal and Eastern Province, besides defeating representative Durban and Pietermaritzburg teams. The only match lost on the tour was that against the Durban New, Zealanders, who defeated this redoubtable team by 4 points to 3). A. J. Sise, a well-known Dunedin boy, was playing in this match. The only “fly in the ointment” of this game was that we were one man short, and played Dave Nourse, the well-known South African representative cricketer and Soccer player. Nourse also represented Natal at Rugby, and he fluked tho potted that goal that won us the match.
“In the 1905 Durban representative team there were nine New Zealanders, and there were six in the Natal team of the following year which toured Johannesburg for the Currie Cup tournament of 1906. At Pretoria, the New Zealanders also had a club and took a leading place in the senior matches on the Rand. Other New Zealanders could be found sprinkled throughout the union in the various clubs.”