Like Australia, sport is considered to be one of the most important parts of what is going on in New Zealand. Kiwis absolutely love sports, and they enjoy a number of sports that you only see in certain areas of the world. We explored sports briefly in our section on student life, but we wanted to take time to help you learn more about the sports in New Zealand so that you can enjoy them while you are residing in the country for study.

The most popular sports in the country are rugby, cricket, netball, sailing, basketball, football, golf, tennis, any and all water sports, and winter sports. Obviously some of these are universal, but others are not quite as known. We’re going to look at some of those in more detail.

Even though it is popular throughout the world, a note does need to be made about “football” if you are coming to New Zealand from a country like the United States. The sport that is known as football in the United States is referred to as “American football” in other parts of the world. The sport that is referred to as “football” is usually soccer, even though “rugby football” can be used for rugby from time to time. Make sure that you know which sport is being talked about when you are talking to natives from New Zealand.


Cricket is considered to be the national sport of summer in New Zealand. There are a number of countries out there that enjoy playing cricket, and they compete in something known as test match cricket (four innings games are played over 5 days). Cricket is a game that involves using a bat and ball, and is played with two teams of 11 players. Similar to baseball, players have to hit the ball and attempt to score runs. They take turns (switching when 10 batters have gone “out”), and each turn is known as an innings. The difference is, instead of using a baseball diamond, the field is the center of a 22 yard long pitch. You run from the batting area to the other end of the pitch to score a run.  It helps to watch practices and games in order to better understand the ins and outs of the sport, especially because the way that innings are calculated can be confusing.


Netball is actually taken from the earliest forms of basketball that developed during the late 19th century. Netball has over 60 teams around the world. Like basketball, the games are on a rectangle shaped court that has a ring on each end; the players have to get the ball into the ring in order to score. The game has a much different pace than basketball, because a player can only possess the ball for three seconds before passing. But, at the same time, it may seem slower because players are only allowed to stay in certain areas of the court during play. Games are only an hour long, and the team with the most goals wins the game. Even though the sport has world-wide appeal, it is not as popular as rugby and cricket in New Zealand. Variants have been developed for netball to help increase the pace so that there is more interest from various audiences.

Rugby league

New Zealand plays both types of rugby; in this section, we’re going to look at Rugby league, which originated as a break off of rugby union, which we’ll look at in the next section. This game is much faster than its union counterpart, and it is considered to be one of the most physically difficult and demanding team sports in the world. You have to be tough to be good at rugby. Each team has 13 players, and the field is a rectangular shape.

You can either carry or kick the ball in rugby; you are trying to score “tries,” which are the points that you earn when you cross the opponents’ goal line and touch the ball to the ground. Tackling and other ways of preventing your opponent from getting the ball to your side of the field. You can also earn points through tackling and kicking a “try at goal” (similar to an extra point in football after a touchdown) or by kicking a field goal.

Rugby union

Rugby union, which is the more well-known and universal form of rugby played around the world, is also popular in New Zealand. It started in the 15th century and only allows you to carry the ball (in rugby league, you can also kick it). The most common type of rugby union has 15 players per team; the ball is oval and the field is rectangular. Like it’s league counterpart, it has a lot of similarities to American football.

Games are split into 40 minute halves, with a short break in between halves; the teams also switch ends of the field. Even though the scheduled time is about 90 minutes, it usually lasts longer due to stopping the game for penalties and injuries. When time runs out on the clock, the players can keep playing until the ball is considered to be “dead,” which the referee will declare with the blow of the whistle. There are also times that extra time needs to be put in, like in cases of ties.

If you are looking for more information about these sports and any of the other sports that are popular in New Zealand, you can get everything that you need at the Sport New Zealand website. They have all of the resources that you need to get involved, understand rules, and get in touch with the sporting organizations that you will find throughout the country of New Zealand.

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