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Trophy found after 88 years

Aug 26, 2020

Originally Published by Stuff

One of New Zealand’s oldest rugby mysteries has been solved after a nearly century-old trophy was found deep in the bowels of Eden Park.

The Loving Cup was traditionally awarded to the winner of the annual North v South game, a longstanding rugby union fixture between the North Island and South Island teams. The trophy had been lost in the archives since 1932.

Following publication of a Stuff article about amateur historian Ian St George’s search for the cup, Eden Park facilities assistant Michael Brown found the trophy in storage.

“It was always there but I didn’t click how important it was until I saw the article,” Brown said.

“We knew it was an object of significance, but we’ve got the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby World Cups and the Ranfurly Shield, and it has just slipped through the cracks.

“Eden Park is a rabbit warren. I’ve been here for four years and yesterday I found a new room. There are probably others I still don’t know about.”

Part of the reason the trophy hadn’t been recognised was that staff assumed the cup and base did not belong together.

“It had been kicking around but the cup and base looked different, like they were part of two different trophies. This article tied it together,” he said.

The trophy was given to the 1924-25 “Invincibles” All Blacks touring side by a group of about 400 New Zealanders living in the United Kingdom after the team’s 32-0 undefeated tour of Britain, Ireland and France.

However, when the cup returned to New Zealand, it was decided that it should be used in that year’s North v South game, with plaques for the winners added on the base, which made it appear to be part of two different trophies.

There are six plaques on the trophy’s base, the most recent being the 1931 game, a 20-20 draw. Newspaper records show the trophy was awarded at the 1932 game, but the plaque was never added.

St George said he was “delighted” the cup had been found after all these years.

“It couldn’t have worked out better,” he said.

“I muttered to my wife that it must be in a back room at the Taranaki or Hawke’s Bay rugby union, or wherever the captain was from that year. I half expected it might have been destroyed or melted down during the war, which they did with a lot of silver.”

Eden Park didn’t have any record of how long the 60-centimetre sterling silver trophy had been in storage, but one long-time staff member believed it had been there at least 37 years.

The original sterling silver lid that came with the cup has not been found, Brown said.

There does not appear to be any records of between then and 1932, when it was last awarded.

“It could have been delivered to Eden Park that year – we don’t know,” Brown said.

New Zealand Rugby is set to announce on Wednesday whether the North v South game scheduled for Eden Park on September 5 will go ahead.

If it does, Brown hopes the trophy can be awarded again for the first time in decades.

“I would love it. How providential – it has come back just as we were resurrecting the North v South game. How serendipitous is that? It’s meant to be.”