When formidable All Blacks put on a show for sell-out crowd
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ON December 6, 1905 Cheltenham Rugby Football Club played host to the All Blacks on the inaugural visit to this country by a touring side from New Zealand.
The game was the 24th of a 35-date tour and when they arrived in the town the All Blacks had not lost a match.
Accommodation for the New Zealanders was arranged at the Sydney Arms Hotel in Pittville Street.
There were no changing rooms at the Athletic Ground in Albion Street where the game was to be played, so both sides changed into their kit at the hotel, carrying their boots so as not to damage the studs on the cobbled road.
Cheltenham Silver Band led the two sides to the match venue along streets lined by throngs of people, many of them disappointed at not being able to buy a ticket for the sold-out game.
Bringing up the rear of the parade were club officials and local dignitaries.
Inside the ground almost 8,000 spectators waited in anticipation of the greatest sporting occasion staged in the town.
Geoffrey Unwin, the Cheltenham captain, gave a team talk that recognised the formidable challenge his men had before them.
He said: “Although we have a great task ahead of us today. I would rather we scored one try than lose by five tries to nil. We will adopt a positive attacking attitude against the colonials at all times.”
Few if any in the town had seen the All Blacks’ Haka before, which was led by their captain David Gallaher. The Cheltenham side replied with British restraint and three hearty cheers.
The visitors won the toss and a game of frantic play ensued.
The Echo described the All Blacks as: “a perfect lot of terrors, possessed of grand physique and wonderful pace”, while The Times reported: “The New Zealanders were wizards at the running game. Indeed, even their forwards were gifted passers”.
Although the visitors won by 18 points to nil, no shame was attached to the home side’s defeat. Quite the opposite.
A spokesman for the All Blacks said Cheltenham’s style of play was nearer to their own than any side they’d played on the tour.
To put the result in perspective, Gloucester and Bristol lost to the tourists by more than 40 points.
After the match the two sides walked together back to the hotel, then they trundled along the Prom by charabanc to Cheltenham’s then new Town Hall for a civic reception where the great and the good gathered to celebrate the presence of the illustrious visitors.
After the high tea, which comprised salad, pressed beef in jelly, York ham and ox tongue, followed by hot buttered muffins and Earl Grey tea, came the speeches.
Councillor James Agg-gardner pronounced: “Although we are separated by many thousands of miles of land and sea, we are still all kith and kin, speaking one language, owing allegiance to the same flag and offering affection to the same monarch”.
For the All Blacks David Gallaher replied: “It is not so much the entertainment or the hospitality that we will remember, but the actual warmth of personal welcome from the fine people of Cheltenham.”
The Echo described the visitors as “possessed of grand physique” but compared to today’s top players, however, they were tiny.
Ranging in age from 17 to 29, the 27 man squad included H D Thomson who was under 11 stone. Nine players were 12 stone or under, with seven 13 stone or under.
One player, G Nicholson was over 6ft, while the shortest, J Hunter stood 5ft 6in. The heaviest was Fred Newton who weighed in at 14 stone six pounds. You can see from the photo, right, that he was lean and toned, but despite this he was called Fatty by other players, though not necessarily to his face.
The Cheltenham RFC officials
The match programme
All Blacks captain Dave Gallaher