26 Nov 2015

Family race against clock to secure Nepia AB jerseys

10:21 am on 26 November 2015

Two jerseys once worn by All Blacks great George Nepia are up for sale at an auction house in Wales.

George Nepia, pictured in 1925.

George Nepia, pictured in 1935. Photo: Wikicommons

Collectively, they may reach a price of over $NZ90,000.

But the Nepia whanau believe they are taonga which should be brought home.

Nepia is regarded as one of our greatest rugby players, and was one of the star players of the Invincibles team which toured Great Britain in 1924-1925.

Māori rugby historian Malcolm Mulholland said Nepia's defence played a big part in the All Blacks remaining undefeated on the tour.

"He could do a lot of things players of his era couldn't - he could kick of both feet and he had a particular tackling style which meant he was impenetrable in his position of fullback, very few tries were scored, if any - he was the last line of defence," said Mr Mulholland.

The jerseys being sold were both worn during the famous tour.

The Nepia whanau only recently found out about the auction, and they realise money and time are against them.

Nepia's grandson, also called George, said, "It would be great to see them come back to New Zealand in a public forum - maybe at the rugby museum, maybe at Te Papa, but given the timeframe, we're up against it, really."

Of the two jerseys up for sale, the one worn by Nepia during the All Blacks 19-24 win over Wales at Swansea is the more valuable.

Other than the jersey being a symbol of a historic win, New Zealand Rugby Museum director Stephen Berg said the jersey had some unusual qualities.

"It has a strange layout - the fern is going the wrong way, [which] is unusual and they are referred to as St Margaret's jerseys," said Mr Berg

Mr Mulholland believed the jerseys were taonga and needed to come home, because "they're part of our rugby history and belong to one of our greatest players, so every effort should be made to repatriate that taonga."

Former Māori All Black coach Matt Te Pou agreed, saying, "If we don't have a George Nepia jersey, it's important we make an approach to try and get this one."

New Zealand Rugby said they were aware of the jerseys going for auction this coming Friday but were not in a position to say whether they intended to be part of the auction or not.

The New Zealand Rugby Museum said they simply could not afford to buy the jerseys.

The jerseys are being sold by the surviving families of both the players who Nepia gave them to.

His grandson George Nepia had a message for them: "Can we have them back, if you don't want them? Let's have a conversation about these jerseys and the importance of these jersey to the Nepia [family], and see what we can sort out," he said.