It is recorded that the first game of rugby in the Cook Islands was played in 1924 by the All Black ‘Invincibles’ who played a match on their return from their UK tour. The ‘Invincibles’ stopped over and played a game against a local selection at the Takamoa Grounds in the capital city of Avarua. From then until 1954 when the Rarotonga Rugby Union was established the game of rugby was organised within each of the six local villages on Rarotonga. The RRU later grew into the Cook Islands Rugby Football Union taking in all of the outer islands and being given international recognition by the International Rugby Board.
In 1976 the NZRFU invited the Cook Islands and Western Samoa (as it then was) on short tours of New Zealand. This was the first recognition for both countries at the international level.
At the regional level the Cook Islands has competed regularly at the South Pacific Games beginning in 1971 in Tahiti. In 1983 the Cook Islands finished 4th after losing the Bronze Medal play-off to Tonga. In the1985 Mini South Pacific Games it won the Gold Medal by defeating New Caledonia but this was reversed in 1987 when New Caledonia took out the win.
In 1989 a national body, the Cook Islands Rugby Union was established in an attempt to embrace the game of rugby in Rarotonga and the other fourteen outer islands that make up the group of islands known as the Cook Islands.
In March 1995, the Cook Islands Rugby Union became a full member of the International Rugby Board(IRB).
The Cook Islands best international result was the 1981 defeat of the Italian national team coached by French great Pierre Villeprieux, 15-9 in a game that was played at Tupapa Park.
The Cook Islands team that day was led by Tiki Matapo and comprised G Heather, I Taiki, J Maoate, T Hosking, R Estall, T Taruia, A Rangi, A Pere, C Hosking, C Foster, A Dean, V Tereora, T Mataora, M Mamanu Reserves: A Nicholas, M Samuel, T Pittman, P Winchester Coach: R Severne Manager: D Hosking/H Henry/T Solomon
Pointscorers for the Cook Islands that day were: Try: V Tereora Penalties: M Mamanu(3) , Conversion: M Mamanu. The test was refereed by local referee, Tauei Solomon.
The main island of Rarotonga (70% of the population) has six village rugby clubs namely; Arorangi, Titikaveka, Ngatangiia, Tupapa, Takuvaine and Avatiu. The grades currently being played range from the senior A, Under 19,17,15,13 – 11,9, ‘New Image’ Under 7yr and also the mighty ‘Golden Oldies’ grade. In the outer islands organised rugby is being played on only 5 islands; Aitutaki, Mauke, Mitiaro, Mangaia and Atiu.
In total there are an estimated 1400 rugby players.
The Cook Islands, which won the IRB Oceania Tier 3 group elimination in 2006, played two RWCQ matches against Tonga which finished as the bottom placed IRB Oceania Tier 2 team to decide the final Rugby World Cup qualifying place. The matches were played on a home and away basis on the 24th June in Rarotonga and the 8th of July in Tonga. The Cook Islands lost heavily to Tonga in both matches.
The Cook Islands Mens 7s team participates each year at various IRB tournaments and has qualified to compete at the IRB Hong Kong 7s in 2014 and also the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The Cook Islands won the Oceania Cup in 2013 and will now playoff against Fiji on June 28th 2014 for the 'Oceania 1' spot at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
The latest IRB world standings have the Cook Islands ranked 46th in the world of rugby.