At the start of the last century, Rugby Union was well established in New Zealand as the national winter sport and a tour by the international team, the All Blacks to Great Britain in 1905 strengthened this position further. This tour was a huge success both on and off the field and the New Zealand Rugby Union made a huge profit of £12000. However, some discontent was beginning to emerge in New Zealand concerning some of the Rugby Union rules and the lack of player compensation for time lost from work. These tensions were similar to those in England which eventually led to the 1895 breakaway and the creation of the Northern Union. In addition, while on tour the players (called The Originals) were only paid a token 3 shillings a day expenses, while the Rugby Union made a big profit.
Bert Baskerville was intrigued and excited by the possibility of a tour by a professional New Zealand team to the northern hemisphere and talked to several prominent players. He consulted George Smith who toured with The Originals and had spoken to Northern Union officials at the time and they both spoke to J. J. Giltinan about the possibility of playing some matches in Sydney. As well as being a prominent member of The Originals, George Smith was a world class sprinter and a champion jockey. His involvement was crucial as he was a well known sporting celebrity with very good connections.
In early 1907, Bert Baskerville wrote to the Northern Union in England asking if they would be willing to host a tour by a professional New Zealand team. Spectators in the North of England had not witnessed any internation rugby a since a New Zealand
native team toured in 1988/89 and the Northern Union were very enthusiastic. On 26th March 1907, the Northern Union informed its member clubs that it was "very favourably disposed" to a tour and suggested that the tourists should be paid a guarantee of £3000 and 70% of gate receipts. They told Bert Baskerville that the tour could go ahead and by May his plans were starting to take shape. He resigned from his Post Office job and began to plan the tour full-time.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
Bert Baskerville assembled a team of selectors (Duncan McGregor, Massa Johnston, Hercules Wright and George Smith) and they began to think about the type
of player they would need. They knew about the rule changes implemented by the Northern Union and knew that line out specialists would not be needed so they began to look for players with speed and acceleration. They also needed players who were prepared to invest some of their own money into the venture and accept a probable lifetime ban from Rugby Union. The New Zealand Rugby Union anticipated a low level of interest and it was a huge blow to them when 160 out of approximately 200 New Zealand provincial Rugby Union players applied to join the tour. The final team was selected from these applications and players who had committed early were given preference. At least two Rugby Union internationals did not tour including Opai Asher and George Gillett who both declined due to injury. Both players were to switch to Rugby League later on in their careers. The tour included nine internationals and
fourteen provincial players with a large number selected from the Wellington and
Auckland teams that had recently competed for the Ranfurly Shield.
On 13th May 1907, the New Zealand Herald newspaper ran a story about a possible professional rugby tour to Great Britain. The story actually originated in England and, under the circumstances, the level of secrecy achieved by Baskerville and his fellow organisers was extraordinary. Opposition was very vocal and the New Zealand Rugby Union strongly condemned the tour with support from from their media cronies. They continued to insist that their beloved amateur principles must be adhered to but, as the cooperative nature of the tour became more widely known, public sympathy towards the touring party increased and the Rugby Union appeared to be out of touch.
Albert Henry Baskerville was twenty four years old and a reasonably well known rugby player who turned for The Oriental club in Wellington and was on the verge of provincial selection. In 1907, he published a book called "Modern Rugby Football: New Zealand Methods" which explained how the game was played and became very widely read. He was inspired by an article in the Daily Mail written by F. W Cooper, a supporter of the Northern Union who said that while The Originals tour was successful, it was a shame they had not played any of the northern clubs, which at the time of the 1895 break away, were the strongest in England.