The Māori Battalion's rugby triumph

After the 8th Army entered Tripoli, Libya, in January 1943, the final rounds of the 1942-43 'Freyberg Cup', the NZ Division's keenly contested rugby competition, were played:

A couple of days later the battalion moved to an area about 15 miles south of the city. It was a nice spot after the arid desert - trees, mostly eucalyptus, lined the roads and the orchards of plums, apples, and almonds were in full bloom. Smartening-up drill took the place of patrols and there was a divisional parade and march past the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr Winston Churchill. But from the Maori point of view the resumption of the Rugby competition, interrupted by the departure from Bardia, was the most important event of the period. The finals were played in Tripoli as General Freyberg had promised.

At one stage it looked as if the finals would be fought out by the Maori Battalion versus the Maori Battalion for it had two teams entered, but the ‘B’ team finally went down to the Machine Gun Battalion and the championship lay between the Divisional Signals and the Maoris. The deciding game was played on the divisional football ground at Castel Benito on Sunday, 14 February, and in spite of heavy rain and a strong wind was witnessed by practically the whole Division. The rain cleared before the match and the betting was slightly in favour of the Maoris. Divisional Signals won the toss and elected to play with the wind at their backs. The Maoris' team was:


                                    Sgt H. H. Takarangi (HQ Coy)


                           2 Lt. J. Smith     Cpl Taite     Cpl D. Hapi
                             (D Coy)           (HQ Coy)      (HQ Coy)


                               Pte O. Tumataroa     Pte D. Hakaraia
                                    (D Coy)                   (HQ Coy)


                                       Sgt T. Matenga (D Coy)


              Cpl H. Hohepa     L-Cpl R. Rautahi     Pte F. Henderson
                  (HQ Coy)              (HQ Coy)                 (C Coy)

                                     Pte Tepurei     Lt W. D. P. Wordley
                                      (HQ Coy)            (HQ Coy)

                  Lt S. F. Jackson     Pte D. R. Aratema     Sgt A. Kenny
                       (C Coy)                (B Coy)                 (HQ Coy)

Referee: Rev Father J. L. Kingan

Divisional Signals had the Maoris hard-pressed nearly all the first spell and at half-time the score was 3–0 in their favour. Father Kingan was consigned by the Maori spectators to a country much warmer than Tripoli for penalising Maori offside play, and one of the consequent free kicks had gone over the bar. At the interval the Maori team changed jerseys and wore 6 Field Regiment's colours of yellow and blue - their original black and white jerseys were difficult to distinguish from the Divisional Signals' blue and white. In the second half the Divisional Signals were just as capable in defence as they had been in attack, but eventually Wordley made a break through and sent Aratema over for a try which Jackson converted - 5–3. Divisional Signals came again and brought the score to 5–6 by a good goal from another infringement. The Maoris could not break the Divisional Signals' defence until, within a few minutes of time, Taite streaked away to score near the corner - 8–6. The kick was not successful and, with no further score, 28 (Maori) Battalion ended an unbeaten season by becoming the champions of the Division.

From J.F Cody's official history, 28 (Maori) Battalion (Wellington, 1956), pp. 253-54. Note that the five-eight listed as Pte D. Hakaraia is thought to have in fact been 2nd Lieutenant Arda Manga Hakaraia.

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