Rugby and national identity in New Zealand

John Nauright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In New Zealand, South Africa, and to a lesser degree, Australia, rugby has been central in sporting related forms of national identity during the past 100 years. In each country there have been dramatic shifts in rugby culture, organization and economics over the past thirty years, yet, rugby remains potent in all three societies with four of the first five rugby world cups shared between the three. In each country rugby has had a series of highs and lows, but has been a significant shaper of new national identities centered on incorporating native peoples into the national pantheon and within the rugby culture. In all three cases rugby, race and national culture overlap creating a heightened sense of what makes each nation unique when compared to others.This paper argues, that despite recent changes to rugby’s organization, rugby remains a potent constitutive force in the generation and maintenance of national identity though powerful attachments to the historical significance of the game. In particular, this paper examines the role of rugby in New Zealand as the game has progressed into the contemporary era focusing on issues of nostalgia, gender and race. The paper contends that recent changes in New Zealand rugby culture have not altered the fundamental role of the game in New Zealand’s national identity. Rugby has indeed faced challenges, but at its core remains central to New Zealand national identity. Perhaps nowhere else in the world has rugby been as central to a nation’s identity and it is because of its historical presence and the ways in which New Zealanders and others remember that past that sustains rugby despite progressive changes to the game.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-114
Number of pages14
Issue number78
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2007


Dive into the research topics of 'Rugby and national identity in New Zealand'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this