All Blacks gift NZMACI hand-carved benches to French hosts

The All Blacks are gifting a series of intricately detailed pae noho whakairo (carved bench seats) to cities across France, symbolising the unity, friendship and camaraderie rugby brings to both nations.

The New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) were commissioned by New Zealand Rugby to create the collection of benches, which took four weeks to complete by a team of seven carvers.

The first public gifting of one of the pae noho whakairo was in Lyon on 27 September, with rugby greats Dan Carter, Victor Vito and Stephen Donald among the ceremony attendees.

Internationally, a bench is recognised as a place to honour others, wrap our arms around each other, sit and reflect, or meet and connect.

In rugby, it’s the backbone of our team in black, supporting the eight players who have the backs of the 15 on the field.

The All Blacks have recognised their bench is extended well beyond those on the field to their wider communities, whānau, first coaches, volunteers, orange slicers, refs and the fans.

In the gifting of these benches, the All Blacks extend their appreciation and support to all those around the world who are brought together by their love of rugby.

Master Carver Clive Fugill and Te Takapū o Rotowhio (The National Stone and Bone Carving School) head tutor, Stacy Gordine were the lead designers of the pae noho whakairo, with support from Tipene Oneroa and Eraia Kiel.

Each carver has brought their own unique style and interpretation of the designs, making each bench bespoke and unique.

Mr Fugill says the works of art, from the back panels to the legs, were designed to tell a story of the friendly rivalry and uniting power of rugby.

“We created two different wood carving designs that represent two teams or individuals going ‘head-to-head’, the fierce rivalry on the field and the great friendships off the field.”

The designs reinforce the balance of competition and community found within the sport.

“Te Tuarā (the back) is inspired by a wakahuia or papahou, a carved Māori treasure box, a metaphorical vessel for prized possessions.”

Mr Fugill says in this case, the “prized possessions” recognises the value of the players, coaches, supporters, sponsors and tamariki.

“The ngā wae wae (legs) of the benches represent speed, prowess swiftness and agility – all qualities shared by modern-day toa of rugby.”

Tukiri Tini, one of the pae noho whakairo carvers, says kaupapa like this allow Māori culture, traditions, and art to be showcased to the world.

“It’s a special thing to know that something we have poured our time, effort, expertise and culture into, will be viewed and enjoyed on the other side of the world.”

This international koha follows the gifting of bespoke benches to 26 communities across Aotearoa New Zealand, providing a safe space for people to connect, care, and look out for each other.