Sport | Rugby

When rugby legend George Nēpia put farming before the game

Rugby legend George Nepia, seen here in 1924. Photo / New Zealand Herald archive

This article was first published by the NZ Herald.

The Country takes a look at the world of farming back in the day.

Farming and rugby could both be considered the backbone of the country and farmers have featured prominently in the All Blacks to this day.

From Sir Colin Meads to Sam Whitelock, or from Sir Brian Lochore to Andrew Hore, life on the farm has often crossed over from paddock to pitch.

However, one of New Zealand’s greatest-ever All Blacks - George Nēpia - put farming before the game in 1935.

Nēpia switched code and country to play for the newly formed London League Club, Streatham-Mitcham.

He said that, while he loved New Zealand rugby, he needed finance for his farm and playing in England seemed the only possible option.

Eighteen months later Nēpia was back home, and while his efforts overseas may not have been a complete success, his farm was secured.

The New Zealand Herald reported that this was also due to his wife Huinga, who kept things running smoothly in his absence.

George Nepia wants money for his farm

Why he is going to England

Horowhenua Chronicle, November 7, 1935

(By telegraph—Press Association.)

Gisborne, Last Night.

George Nepia, the famous Maori All Black, leaves Gisborne tomorrow for Auckland where he joins the Akaroa for England under a two years’ engagement to the newly formed London League Club Streatham-Mitcham.

He will receive a signing-on fee of £500, expenses both ways and a wage of at least £3 10s weekly.

Nepia emphasised that he had no complaint against the Rugby Union and found the change-over very hard as he had always regarded Rugby as sacred and realised that he owed his present position to the union code.

However, he required finance for his farm and this seemed the only possible source.

“I don’t think my Rugby Union friends will begrudge me in deciding to put my last years of football to the best advantage for my own benefit,” he added.

Playing for the same club are Charlie Smith (Wairoa), McDonald (Marlborough) and George Harrison (Taranaki), also members of the last Maori team touring Australia.

Football to farming

Nepia going back to the land

Model property in Waiapu

New Zealand Herald, June 22, 1937

[By telegraph — Own Correspondent]

Gisborne, Monday.

A return to serious farming is apparently the intention of George Nepia, who has returned to his home in the Waiapu district, on the East Coast, after an adventure into the League football arena in the Old Country.

Nepia’s experience with the Streatham Mitcham Club, London, with which he signed up 18 months ago on liberal financial guarantees, might not have been a complete success from the point of view of the league, but it gave him an opportunity to establish his farm on a sound basis.

During a brief stay in Gisborne en route from Auckland to the East Coast, Nepia was accorded a hearty welcome from Maori friends of the district.

The New Zealand Herald reports on George Nēpia's return home in 1937. Image / Pastures Past / NZME

He offered no information as to any future projects in which the development of his farm did not figure.

He was anxious to complete his journey and get back with his family in the familiar surroundings of Waiapu Valley and to inspect the property into which he put £500, the signing up fee which he obtained on his entry into the League code in 1935.

The farm is reported to have prospered well under the management of Mrs. Nepia, and is spoken of as a model for Maori farmers of the dairying district in Waiapu and beyond.

At the time of his departure from the Rugby Union code, Nepia shared the difficulties of most dairy farmers of the Dominion, and his property badly needed finance.

The opportunity of spending a season or two under the League banner, and thus securing the necessary finance, was irresistible.

The result of the decision, though it entailed an exile of 18 months from his own country, has been most satisfactory to Nepia, who looks forward to modest prosperity in his old surroundings.

Article by the NZ Herald.