April 8 - 1917 'Trench Blacks' win the Somme Cup

New Zealand Army 40 - French Services 0

During the First World War, in late 1916 and early 1917, a number of games were played in the UK in which teams made up of New Zealand soldiers played teams made up from local clubs, or other military divisions, or nationalities. A New Zealand Divisional team formed by Col. Arthur Plugge with plans to play several games in Britain, but the tour was cancelled and the squad took part in a competition in France for the Somme Cup.

The Somme Cup trophy was donated by the Paris newspaper Le Journal and won by New Zealand who defeated French Service 40-0 in the final. Played at Vincennes on the 8th of April 1917, New Zealand scored nine tries, five conversions and a penalty goal.

The Somme Cup, a statue of a French grenadier

credit New Zealand Rugby Museum

The Trench Blacks. Standing: Lt-Col. Arthur Plugge, William Bright (reserve), Reg Taylor, Jim Moffitt, Ranji Wilson, Dick Fogarty, George Murray (captain), Les Cockroft, Tom French, Charles King, Edmond Ryan, Bert Adams, Capt. Tom Lawless. Seated: Norman Stead, John McIntyre, George Owles, Charles Brown, Billy Wilson (reserve), Torp Whittington, Arthur Wilson (Assistant manager).

Captain Roger Dansey leads the haka prior to the match

One report indicates 75,000 attended the match, another 60,000, considered to be a world record for a rugby game, but 25,000 seems to be a more realistic figure. The French papers considered the New Zealanders the best team seen in France. Several of the French team had been in the trenches the previous day. Three months after playing All Black Reg Taylor was killed in action at Messines on 20 June; Maori All Black Tom French was severely wounded on 4 October and had his left arm amputated; and George Scott lost sight in both eyes at Passchendaele. Meanwhile French captain, Maurice Boyau, an ace pilot, was shot down and killed on 16 September 1918.

In February 1918 the Trench Blacks again played French Services, at Parc des Princes Velodrome, Paris and won 5-3. A much closer game, General Russell, the commander of the NZ Division, wrote in his personal diary, dated 21 February 1918, “Plugge came to dinner and told us about the Paris football match which we won by a fluke and very little.