Thursday, July 29, 2010

Te Ao Hōu – The New Dawn: 100 years of Maori Rugby

More than a decade ago I was given the responsibility by the New Zealand Rugby Union Board to find the right long-term partner/sponsor for the All Blacks jersey.

Chairman Rob Fisher, CEO David Moffett and I set off on a journey which culminated on a decision to recommend Adidas, in the face of strong interest from two other fine firms, Nike and Canterbury.

The decision in favor of Adidas came down to four things. The immediate on-the-spot decision-making capability of major shareholder, CEO Robert Louis-Dreyfus, his promise to devote all Adidas rugby efforts to the All Blacks (including walking away from the French team), a very, very long-term deal (which is now nearing its 15th year), and most of all, Adidas empathy with the essence/spirit of the All Blacks.

The relationship has been a brilliant one, full of mutual empathy, passion and support, even when performances by the All Blacks left fans on their knees. Adidas and the All Blacks is a real example of shared values and commitment.

It comes through in the way Adidas has developed a jersey – Te Ao Hōu (The New Dawn) – for the NZ Māori's 2010 Centenary. This was worn in the three-match “Sealord New Zealand Māori Series” in June where the NZ Maori team inspirationally and passionately defeated the New Zealand Barbarians, Ireland, and England.

Designed by Dunedin creative director Dave Burke, New Zealand Rugby Union Māori Liaison Officer Tiki Edwards, New Zealand Māori team Kaumatua Whetu Tipiwai, and Luke Crawford, the centenary jersey honors all those who earned the right to wear it and the sacrifices made by their whanau (families).

Through the design flows the story, meaning and achievements of 100 years of Māori rugby. The imagery represents a journey from past to present, the dawning of a new era, lighting a pathway for the future of New Zealand Māori rugby.

Mai i te whaiao ki te ao marama

“From the dim of light of morning to the bright light of day.”

On 21 May 1910 the first official New Zealand Māori team played its inaugural game in Rotorua against the Rotorua sub-union. NZ Māori won 25-5. The affinity and ability Māori have for rugby is second to none: strength, speed, agility, boldness, dancing together. My first memories of Maori players are Mac Herewini (I was a first five for my playing career) and the ranging, to be feared, openside flanker Waka Nathan, on the 1965 All Blacks tour of the British Isles.

The Centenary jersey’s design is inspired by the team haka "Tīmitanga," which the New Zealand Māori players perform before each game. It’s also based on two iconic features of the Māori world: the Korowai (cloak) and the Wharenui (meeting house).

In addition to the Adidas stripes and Silver Fern, the jersey is loaded with symbols and meaning including:

· the blackness of the Beginning,
· the Four Winds,
· the land, the mountain, the Koru design, ferns
· whakapapa (ancestral/genealogical links)
· Poutama (Stairway to Heaven)
· Te Manaia and Wairua (Spirit)
· Hei Tiki and Hinengaro (Mind)
· Mangopare and Tinana (Body)
· Tanerore (god of Haka and Māori Rugby Team Kaitiaki), the central figure on the front of the jersey.

“In wearing this jersey your mauri (life force) and the spirits of your tupuna (ancestors) bring it to life and it becomes the korowai which supports you for the challenges that lay before you.”

Rugby is the game they play in Heaven, and Te Ao Hōu is a fitting tribute put together by a group of inspirers with legacy, belief, craft at the forefront.

You can buy this jersey online for NZ$199.