The rebel tour occurred after the official All Black tour planned for 1985 was cancelled due to a legal ruling that it would be incompatible with the NZRFU's legally stated purpose: "...the fostering and encouragement of the game of rugby...". It was widely condemned for touring apartheid South Africa. This followed the intensely controversial 1981 South African tour New Zealand which had provoked nationwide protest and world-wide condemnation. The Cavaliers tour was very controversial within New Zealand and the players found that support for their actions was far less than they had expected. This controversy meant there were no future rugby contacts until the South African apartheid regime ended.
Of the 30 players who had been selected for the All Black tour, only David Kirk and John Kirwan did not join the Cavaliers. The rebel team were widely believed to have received large secret payments—a controversial issue at a time when rugby union was still supposedly an amateur sport .
The Cavaliers were coached by Colin Meads, managed by Ian Kirkpatrick and captained by Andy Dalton and won just one of the four matches against South Africa, although they won seven of their eight other games on the tour. Dalton, however suffered a broken jaw in the second match of the tour against Northern Transvaal and played no more rugby that season, Jock Hobbs assumed the captaincy duties for the test matches against the Springboks while Andy Haden did the same for the midweek matches.
On their return, the NZRFU barred all the players from participating in the next two All Black tests, and instead selected a new group of players. Most of these replacement players were younger, and were quickly dubbed the "Baby Blacks". Those new All Blacks went on to form the basis of one the most successful periods in All Black rugby, which resulted in many Cavalier players struggling to get their places back.