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BLIGHT ON RUGBY HISTORY – NZRFU got it wrong: Sammy Bligh(t) was a COASTER!


Samuel Blight

It has long been accepted that the West Coast and Buller unions have each provided the All Blacks with seven players, from Harry Butland to Bill Mumm (1949). However, newspaper clippings from the period of Harry Atkinson’s selection in 1913 establish the true count should be West Coast eight, Buller six.

The player in question here is Reefton miner Samuel Percival (“Sammy”) Blight – pictured left , who, as “Sam Bligh”, was a hooker in the 2-3-2 scrum of the All Black team which toured Australia in 1910. In NZRFU histories, he has always been listed as a Buller player, and as Sam Bligh, not Blight. Blight, while with the Westport club, did indeed play for Buller in 1907 and 1908 (as well as for West Coast-Buller under Jack Corbett’s captaincy against the Anglo-Welsh in Greymouth), and again from 1911-13. But in 1909 he played for the Greymouth club and represented the West Coast. That was the season he played for the South Island.

At the time of Atkinson’s selection, the West Coast Rugby Union declared Atkinson was its fourth All Black, and included Blight as one of its previous All Blacks. It said Blight had been selected to tour Australia in 1910 from the West Coast.

Blight was born at Blacks Point, just two miles outside Reefton. The question here is not one of whether Reefton, at the time of Blight’s All Black selection, was affiliated the West Coast or Buller unions, as Blight did not play for Reefton. What’s more, the WCRU had established an Inangahua sub-union in 1907 and it remained affiliated to the WCRU until 1932. The Encyclopedia of New Zealand Rugby does not list Blight as representing either union in 1910.

Here, however, is conclusive evidence Blight was a West Coast player in 1910. He had been nominated by the WCRU for the All Black team in early May 1910 and this Grey River Argus paragraph from May 24, 1910, just days before the All Blacks embarked for Australia, shows, Blight was captain of the newly-formed Blackball-Roa club (of which Matthews was secretary. Its rugby union club was affiliated to the WCRU on April 19, 1910.)


On May 30 and 31, the Grey River Argus further reported:

sammybligh2 sammybligh3

And on June 7:


So for 105 years, New Zealand rugby history has had it wrong!

Sammy Blight was a Coaster when he represented his country in 1910.

But don’t worry, even more recent rugby histories can get these things wrong. Both NZ and Australian rugby histories to this day insist Malcolm van Gelder was from South Australia when he toured New Zealand with the 1958 Wallabies. He was, in fact, playing for the Eastern Suburbs club in Canberra in the ACT at the time, and was never linked with a South Australian club.

Sammy Blight switched to rugby league when Blackball made the move in 1915, and he still played for Blackball until 1921. He died in Christchurch on March 25, 1955, aged 68.

The New Zealand Rugby Museum’s website explains the name change: “Family members have since advised that Bligh’s correct name was Percival Blight but he played under the name Samuel Bligh as he did not want his strongly temperance family, who disapproved of the game, to know he was playing rugby.”

Since this research has come to light, both the NZRU and Wikipedia have amended their profiles on Sam Bligh and he’s now correctly listed as being a West Coast player when selected for the All Blacks.

*Sam Bligh’s updated profile on

**Sam Bligh’s updated Wikipedia profile

Story by Robert Messenger (22-02-2015)



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