Maori players who were not allowed to tour South Africa during the era of apartheid should be awarded retrospective caps, a historian says.

The call comes as the test between a New Zealand Maori and Springbok team failed to attract a commercial sponsor.

That has scuttled any chance of the side playing this year after the New Zealand Rugby Union said it couldn't afford to fund them.

Massey University's Malcolm Mulholland said he had met former players who were discussing the idea as one way of recognising 100 years of Maori rugby next year.

However, the idea has not been formally submitted to the New Zealand Rugby Union.

"One of the discussion points is, how do we close that chapter? How do we heal the hurt. Because it has never been acknowledged by our government, the South African government, [or] by both the SARFU and the NZRU."

Three tours in 1928, 1949 and 1960 to South Africa excluded Maori players last century although "honorary whites" were allowed to tour the republic in 1970.

Former New Zealand Maori coach Matt Te Pou said the idea was a good one because teams were supposed to have been picked on merit, which didn't happen.

"Icons of the game" such as George Nepia and JB Smith would have walked into the touring side if they had been allowed to go, he said.

Bill Wordley, a former New Zealand Maori hooker in the 1960s, said while it wasn't certain he would have made an All Blacks side, the fact that he couldn't trial based on being Maori was "clearly wrong". "I would have enjoyed playing against them," he said. "But that's the way the system was back then."

However, All Black flanker Waka Nathan, who was dubbed the Black Panther during the 1960s, wasn't sold on the idea yesterday.

"To be quite honest I don't believe in that. You're either an All Black or you aren't. You're either a Maori All Black or not."

He remembers a tour of South Africa in 1967 falling over, and he was happy that it did. South African Prime Minister John Vorster set three conditions for Maori touring: There shouldn't be too many, they shouldn't be too black and no controversy should surround their "selection and dispatch".

Retrospective caps have never been awarded by the NZRU.

The NZRU's chief executive, Steve Tew, said there were many examples of players who might have been All Blacks had it not been for some "extraordinary circumstance or another".

"Clearly, there is a different set of issues regarding the apartheid era and tours and matches between South Africa and New Zealand but none that would suggest we can try and retrospectively judge who might or might not have been All Blacks had it not been for those issues."

George Nepia

Ben Couch
JB Smith

Waka Nathan
Pat Walsh
Mac Herewini
Tiny Hill