ON THE EDGE

SANZAR's origins

Wed, 05 Jun 2013 14:09
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SANZAR's creation was carefully managed
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When SANZAR officially began in 1996, the heralding of the professional game into the Southern Hemisphere, the deal was not concluded on the decks of a sailing vessel, nor, was it contrived from the jolly rambling at the local bar, where history is littered with country's unions origins established late into a drinking night.

No, the partnership between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa saw the beginning of the Tri-Nations and Super Rugby, with Australia travelling to New Zealand for the opening match, probably flying on a Boeing 737, while the first overseas travel fixture in the latter saw Transvaal make the trek to Sydney, likely on the larger cousin like a 767 or 747.

The Lions fabled beginnings saw them travel on three-masted stream ship, the Kaikoura, part of the great iron and steam revolution that was transforming maritime operations in 1888, with the side, not referred to as the British and Irish Lions in the remotest 125 years ago, boarding at Gravesend on what was hardly postcard sailing weather on March 9, but the dread spectre of seasickness over weeks in grand oceans was part and parcel of continental travel those days.

While SANZAR's creation was carefully managed, with parties from all three unions coordinating in what still remains to this day a landmark broadcasting deal, the primary ‘power' of the North at the time, the Rugby Football Union, had no interest in what is now recognised as the first ever Lions tour, leading to two English cricketers, by the names of Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury, digging into their own pockets, as well as a few others, as the Tour honoured the strict rules of amateur rugby, forbidding players or the like to be paid.

It was this that led to France's temporary expulsion from the Five Nations, with rugby strictly amateur until 1995, although the FFR was the first recognised union that sanctioned professional payments, while it was this that many believe is the simplest reason that led to the creation of league – with rugby union clubs in the North of England breaking away and fathering what is now the 13-man and effectively rival code at the turn of the century.

Many remember the name of 1888 Lions tourist Jack Clowes, who was almost branded as a professional sportsman by the RFU as he accepted money to buy basic equipment, while eventually the players would sign not to accept any payment or monies while playing in Australia or New Zealand.

This was 1888, remembering that none of the three SANZAR unions had been created officially at this time, with the South Africa Rugby Football Board (from 1992 SARU) first in 1889, the New Zealand Rugby Football Union followed in 1892, while NSW effectively shifted to Australia as a union in 1949.

Shaw and Shrewsbury were actually touring managers for the 1887 England Cricket Tour, with a stigma attached to that financially disastrous tour that Fleet Street had a field day with.

Hundreds of millions of dollars were behind SANZAR's creation, but there was not even money to be made by the organisers back in those huble days, with there being no real confirmation of where any possible financial reward was to be had, with records not indicating whether matches 125 years ago had (again 'sanctioned') gate fees.

The tour then took a turn for the worst, with their captain Robert Seddon drowning in a sculling accident on the Hunter River in West Maitland, and the odd cricketing connection continued with his replacement and eventual England captain Andrew Stoddart being a former Wisden (the cricketing bible for over a century) player of the year.

Over time the relationship between SANZAR and the Lions has been reinforced, with the three founding member nations being the ‘cycled' hosts for the home nations tourists, who assemble ever four years to tour Australia, New Zealand and South Africa on a four year cycle.  Currently in Australia, they lost in South Africa in 2009, and will visit New Zealand in 2017.

Tomorrow, a further part of history for the Lions will be revisited with members of the Maitland Rugby Club, the guardians of the site for over a hundred years, having a working bee at the Campbell's Hill Cemetery, where Seddon is buried today.

The Rugby Championship, as an international competition, still has some time to run to record some of the mystique of the old Lions tours, even if there are some quite wonderful chapters already written in our part of the world…

By SANZAR News Service

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