On June 24, 1890, a new Rugby Union was formed at a meeting of sporting citizens at the old Town Office in Pietermaritzburg. Rugby was still finding its feet as a mainstream sport, but it was developing in the schools especially, and TK Murray, who would go on to become the first President of the Natal Rugby Union, was instrumental in formalising rugby in the province.
He offered a trophy under which rugby could be conducted and Natal was committed to the game of Rugby Union with TK Murray elected president.
Interestingly, the first home of Natal rugby was not Durban because there was no involvement as yet from the port city, although as early as 1870, a form of rugby was being played at Pietermaritzburg High School (later to become Maritzburg College) – a full five years before the establishment of South Africa’s oldest rugby club, Hamiltons in Cape Town.
Pietermaritzburg would form the early hub of rugby in the province.
On 10 August 1889, the first ‘inter-town’ match took place between Durban and Pietermaritzburg sides with Wasps, Crusaders and Durban Rovers starting to build the game in Durban.
The first match played by a Natal side to officially bear the provincial name was played at the Albert Park Oval in Durban, against Kimberley, the Natal players wearing ‘crimson jerseys and black knickers’.
The Natal Rugby Union was launched in 1904 – a full provincial union – with Albert Park still the venue for rugby matches. Later, matches moved to the ground that would become Kingsmead Cricket Ground.
30 000 spectators packed out Kingsmead for the All Black Test in 1949 and it became clear that the ground was no longer big enough to accommodate International rugby.
KINGS PARK (not quite as we now know it) would officially became the home of Natal Rugby on 28 June, 1958.
Why “Kings” Park?
There is a railway platform adjacent to where the stadium stands, a special siding reserved for royalty, where the Monarch or members of his family would be met. The land was made available by the Durban City Council (who would then, in turn, use the land in the Old Fort area to develop municipal offices) for a new stadium.
Unfortunately, the stadium size did not match the attraction Natal Rugby had in those days, with its capacity of only 12 000. 16 000 people crammed the stadium for a match against Transvaal in 1958 and it was clear that expansion was necessary.
An upper level was soon added to more than double capacity to 25 000.
But it still wasn’t enough, especially for international matches with vast scaffolding added for the 1976 All Black Test; 44 000 people packed the stadium that day.
In the early 80s, it had become abundantly clear that temporary stands, erected and then removed for each Test, was a threat to host status and professional consultants were engaged to draw plans for a new main grandstand, including the construction of suites, which would increase capacity to 50 000 all-seated.
A unanimous decision was taken in February, 1984 to build a completely new cantilever grandstand on the Western side which would incorporate extensive offices, suites, media facilities, changerooms and other facilities – an R8 million development project.
The final development came in 1995 with a new Eastern Upper Stand that was added to bring capacity to its current 52 000 to accommodate the Rugby World Cup held in South Africa.