PANZA celebrates Rugby World Cup 2011 with three historic rugby poems found by PANZA member, publisher and cricket poetry anthologist Mark Pirie, from New Zealand Free Lance (c1920s) and The Evening Post (c1930s).

The first humourous poem is on picking the team for the 1924-25 All Blacks “Invincibles” tour, from New Zealand Free Lance, and the second poem, ‘The All Blacks’, is on the team’s victorious return and was offered by Pirie and republished in The Dominion Post, 22 September 2011 as “The Thursday Poem”. The third is a more general poem on players in the game, from The Evening Post.

Robert J Pope (1863?-1949) was a Wellington poet and noted club cricketer in his younger years. Pirie has previously written on Pope in Poetry Notes, Vol.1, No. 1, Autumn 2010.

The poems discovered by Pirie are not in Pope’s two published collections: Some New Zealand Lyrics (1928) and A New Zealander’s Fancies in Verse (1946). A visit to the Turnbull Library (when Pirie was looking for cricket poems for A Tingling Catch (2010)) unearthed them in Pope’s manuscripts. They had been cut out of New Zealand Free Lance and The Evening Post by Pope and glued in to his manuscript books; the third was signed in The Evening Post as “R.J.P.” Pirie is currently working on a fresh selection of Pope’s verse.

PANZA is also aware of another prominent New Zealand rugby poet published in newspapers from this period: Ernest L Eyre, of Devonport, Auckland. Niel Wright wrote an essay on Eyre in the latest Poetry Notes, Vol. 2, No. 2, Winter 2011. Eyre wrote a history of the North Shore Rugby Club: C’Mon Shore! (1973). He was a player and official from 1904-67.

Here are the three poems by Pope:

Robert J Pope


The Free Lance has ordained that all
   Must pick a team of “Blacks,”
That shall the stormy ocean brave
   And face the British packs;
A sense of duty urged me on
   To honour this decree,
But sorely was I puzzled what
   The personnel should be.

I read reports by ev’ry scribe
   From Auckland to the Bluff,
But very soon I learned that this
   Would hardly be enough;
For there are countless players who
   Are born to kick unseen;
Yet, nathless, mighty champions
   Upon their native green.

The “Oio Examiner” I
   Indeed was forced to scan
To see if there was a mention of
   A real outstanding man;
I found at least, a dozen that
   ‘Twas held, must find a place;
While the Kawa Kawa “Sentinel”
   Had thirteen in the race.

There was seventeen from Auckland,
   And nineteen from Hawke’s Bay,
All positively certainties,
   Whose claims none could gainsay.
Only eight I found in Southland,
   Who were sure to be included;
But from Canterbury’s fertile plains
   “All Blacks” in scores exuded.

 Otago’s quota to the team
   Was put down as eleven,
And five of these were forwards who
   Would grace a team from heaven.
The “Times,” indeed, had qualms about
   The eighteen from outside;
And wound up thus: “Our men have claims
   That cannot be denied.”

I read the Westport “Sun’s” reports,
   And there I quickly learned
Of a full-back and three forwards,
   Who had fern-leaves safely earned.
The “Examiner” of Woodville
   Was but sparing in its claims;
The list of men it termed “foregones,”
   Comprised just seven names.

The Marlborough“Express,” I found,
   Took quite a gloomy view
Of the number of its candidates,
   And put it down as two;
The Nelson “Weekly News” complained
   Of being in the cold;
Yet “Apple Land” had five great backs,
   Perforce must be enrolled.

To Taranaki’s claims I then
   Directed my attention,
And in the “Herald’s” columns, ten
   Had honourable mention.
“These two,” ‘twas said, “must sure find place,
   Let those stand out who must;
But, lacking these, we’d have a team,
   New Zealand dare not trust.”

Such multifarious reading had
   By now my mind perplexed;
The problem of those Twenty-nine
   Was making me sore vexed.
I totted up the certainties
   And found them sixty-one;
But, sixty-ones in twenty-nine –
   It really can’t be done.

I sat me down and scratched my head.
   Now aching – when, anon,
I found I’d made a blunder great –
   I’d left out Wellington;
Then rapidly I conned the notes,
   Of “Drop Kick” and “Touch Line,”
And found the local certainties
   A modest twenty-nine.

Wellington, 21/5/1924


Sound, trumpet and drum,
For the All Blacks have come,
   Bowed down ’neath their burden of glory;
They have put in the shade
Old Achilles, and laid
   On the shelf all the heroes of story.

Neither England nor France
Could withstand their advance,
   Though ’gainst Newport they had a near squeak;
Old Ireland fought gamely,
Nor did Wales suffer tamely
   The process of eating the leek.

Nicholls, Nepia and Cooke
All played like a book,
   As did Parker, the Brownlies, none fleeter;
And more I could name
Who have just as much claim,
   Were it not for the bonds of my metre.

Yet it might be as well,
In case our heads swell,
   To remember a former mishap;
Let us not crow too loudly,
Or bear ourselves proudly.
   South Africa’s still on the map.

Then here’s to the boys
Who have made such a noise
   In all lands where the oval is kicked,
While they’ve burnished her fame,
They have guarded her name,
   And returned to New Zealand “unlicked.”

Wellington, 11/3/1925

(Poems from New Zealand Free Lance)


(For the Post)

Be kind to the hooker, or else in the scrum
   Thy poor tender shins he will hack;
Or take the first chance that is offered to him
   Of planting his foot in your back.
Be kind to the hooker, he’s hidden from view,
   And can work his revenge in the dark,
So if you insult him, as sure as you’re born,
   He’ll deprive you of some of your bark.

Be kind to the half-back, he’s nippy and sly,
   And will grab you when rounding the scrum,
Or will collar you low, your heels up he’ll throw,
   And bang on the ground you will come.
Be kind to the half-back, that watchful young man,
   If you hurt him he’ll likely feel wild;
And if he should meet you again in the field,
   You’d probably know why he smiled.

Be kind to the winger, or you he may prod
   In the home of your afternoon tea;
He’s fond of a scrap, and won’t mind a rap
   If your eye comes to grief on his knee.
Be kind to the winger, he’s out for a go,
   And promptly pays all that he owes;
So be careful to give him no more than his due,
   Or he’ll give you the change on your nose.

Be kind to three-quarters, they’re heady and strong,
   And can run like their master, Old Nick;
So if you tread hard on their corns beg their pardon,
   Or limp off the field with a rick.
Be kind to three-quarters again let me say,
   For their hatred of roughness is such
That, if you should fend them, or neatly upend them,
   You’ll travel henceforth on a crutch.

Be kind to the full-back or, when in his grip,
   He’ll handle you roughly for sure.
He’s a virtuous fellow, and hates fast young men,
   So take care that your language is pure. 
Be kind to the full-back, ’tis kindness well spent,
   Don’t approach this stern player with vim;
If to score you must try, put your collar-bone by –
   A collarbone’s nothing to him.

(From The Evening Post)

Poems © Robert J Pope