Maori Affairs Minister Ernest Corbett told the 1956 Maori All Blacks minutes before the game they must not beat the Springboks "for the future of rugby", says a member of that side.

Maori All Black fullback Muru Walters, now an Anglican bishop in Otaki, said Mr Corbett visited the team in their Eden Park dressing-room and told them if they won the All Blacks would never be invited back to South Africa.

The destructive message "ripped the guts out of the spirits of our team", he told Radio Waatea yesterday. Expected to test the Springboks, they lost 37-0.

It was not only the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRU) that should apologise for its treatment of Maori players, the Government should as well, Bishop Walters said.

The NZRU has refused to apologise for excluding Maori players from its side to tour South Africa, leaving some brilliant players at home to appease the apartheid regime.

Mr Corbett, who died in 1968, told the side they had to lose, Bishop Walters said.

"What he said was you must not win this game or we will never be invited to South Africa again," Bishop Walters told Radio Waatea host Willie Jackson.

"I thought he was joking, but then another official came in and said the same thing...for the future of rugby, don't beat the South Africans.

"That was a pretty destructive message, actually...and it ripped the guts out of our spirits of our team."

The tame defeat in front of an expectant crowd estimated at 61,000 subjected the side to ridicule, in a year when the All Blacks beat the Springboks in a series for the first time.

Four years later an all-white New Zealand team toured South Africa, where they were soundly beaten.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples has labelled the NZRU arrogant for refusing to apologise to former Maori players for excluding them from past tours to South Africa on racial grounds.

Author Malcolm Mulholland found out about the unresolved issue while researching his book Beneath the Maori Moon. He wrote to the NZRU last year inviting it to apologise but the union did not want to play ball.

The South African government's apartheid regime of segregation was in force from 1948 to 1994. Maori players were excluded from All Black tours in 1928, 1949 and 1960.

NZRU Maori Board chairman Wayne Peters has said the NZRU board considered the matter twice. It decided in the centenary year of Maori rugby it was better to focus on celebrations rather than political issues from the past.

When the Maori played the Springboks at Napier in 1921, where visitors won a hard-fought match,a South African journalist Charles Blackett wrote an inflammatory match report.

"Bad enough having to play a team officially designated New Zealand Natives, but the spectacle of thousands of Europeans frantically cheering on a band of coloured men to defeat members of their own race was too much for the Springboks who were frankly disgusted."

After the 1956 game the Maori captain Tiny Hill, an All Black forward, told his pack they had "played like girls".

"All eight of them," one of the other forwards retorted.

The match report in Te Ao Hou, published by the Maori Affairs Department, said the Maori tackling was "ineffectual" and it was a great disappointment to the thousands of Maori people present.

"The score was hard to believe...the people were subdued, the overwhelming defeat had come as a great shock."

Bishop Walters had redemption of sorts in 1961, when he kicked the winning goal for the Maori against France.