Righting the wrongs of a rugby injustice

FAMILY HISTORY: Brigham Riwai-Couch tries on his great grandfather Ben Couch's All Blacks blazer with the help of proud mum Melanie Riwai-Couch and dad Jared Riwai-Couch. PHOTO: MARTIN HUNTER

Seventy years ago, Brigham Riwai-Couch’s great grandfather could have worn this blazer on the All Blacks’ tour of South Africa.

But Ben Couch never got the chance – he wasn’t selected for the 1949 tour, because the New Zealand Rugby Union left Maori players out of the 30-man squad to meet apartheid conditions set by South Africa.

Mr Couch was one of three players who weren’t considered for the tour because they were Maori. He later went on to become a politician and Minister of Maori Affairs.

His great-grandson Brigham now has the opportunity to right that wrong.

The 17-year-old Christchurch Boys’ High School mid-fielder is off to Capetown in April with the school’s first XV, to the inaugural world schools tournament.

Brigham said he was excited to have the opportunity to travel to South Africa.

The 1947-49 All Blacks. Ben Couch (front row middle)

“It’s a very humbling experience to be picked for the team. And in relation to my great grandpa, I feel like I’m righting a wrong that was done to my family, not just to him. It’s a great honour – to be able to do what my great grandpa was denied.”

Doing the haka on South African soil tops his most-looked-forward-to list.

“I’m really excited to perform the haka there. Being a proud Maori – proud of my culture – I feel I will also be representing my great grandfather, and my tipuna and my school.”

National MP Ben Couch.

His parents, Melanie and Jared, have told him stories about his great grandfather all his life, though they never met. Mr Couch died in 1996 but he passed on one of his traits to Brigham, who also kicks off both feet.

It was an ability Ben Couch honed while living with his aunt and uncle in Kohunui, a rural pa near Pirinoa in south Wairarapa.

“One of the stories dad told me is how his (Mr Couch’s) uncle used to take him out into the paddock with a bull whip and whichever side he cracked it, left or right, my great grandpa would kick the ball and try and catch it; that’s how he became really quick.”

The blazer Brigham is wearing in the photo on the front page has been passed through the family and now has pride of pace in their Somerfield home.

Ben Couch was born at Lyttelton in 1925, the first of eight children of a farmer, George Manning Moke Couch, who had an English father and Ngai Tahu mother, and his wife, Hinerua Riwai of Rapaki, who had a Ngai Tahu father and Ngati Mutunga mother.

He played seven matches for the All Blacks from1947 to 1949, and later went on to be MP for Wairarapa in 1975 – one of the first two Maori ever to win a general seat. He was Minister of Police in 1981 during the Springbok tour of New Zealand.

Jared Riwai-Couch remembers his grandfather as man of integrity, “an honest man” who spoke the truth and was well known and loved in his Wairarapa community.

Brigham was showing leadership skills like his great grandfather, he said.

“We’re extremely proud of his achievements. We keep his feet firmly grounded but he’s done himself and his great grandfather proud.”

The schools rugby festival event is being organised by former Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer. South Africa’s top 10 school teams are confirmed, and Mr Meyer has sent invites to 25 leading New Zealand rugby schools, and around the globe to Fiji, Tonga, Japan, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Georgia, England, Ireland and France. One of South Africa’s oldest schools, Paarl Boys’ High School, plays host.


  1. Kapai Brigham ! Ake Ake Ake. As a Police officer during the Tour we were supported by a great Minister in troubled times. As a Rugby Manager Colts, Prems and Hawkes Bay age Groups really congratulate you on your personal journey. Kapai young man. MD