Bill English was pro-1981 Springbok Tour

The 1981 Springbok Tour provoked sporting and political civil war in New Zealand.

Families and friendships were divided and the country became a two nation state - those that were for the tour versus those against.

Now, Prime Minister Bill English admits he was "probably for it".

"I was keen to see the tour happen - thought sport shouldn't be mixed with politics."

That was also the view of the then-Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon, and the tour went ahead.

Extreme violence broke out between police and anti-tour protesters. One match was cancelled and another was blasted by flour and smoke bombs.

During apartheid Maori players didn't tour with the All Blacks in South Africa - though in 1970 they were allowed in the country as 'honorary whites'.

"It helped persuade me particularly as a politician to be committed and spend time on the Maori related issues in New Zealand and I'm pretty satisfied about where that's got to," Mr English says.

When Mr English's predecessor John Key was first asked about his stance on the tour he couldn't recall, saying: "I can't even remember... I don't even know."

While the comments attracted some controversy, Mr English says it's feasible someone could lack an opinion on it - despite how divided the country was at the time.

"New Zealanders aren't always motivated by arguments, political issues, they like a quiet life," Mr English says.