Maori All Blacks eye three from three with strong squad

By Campbell Burnes

After 15 months of inactivity, the Maori All Blacks will be seeking an unbeaten three-match tour to help erase the stain of their last outing, a rare defeat on home soil.

In July 2015 they suffered a 34-18 reverse to the NZ Barbarians on Eden Park, and the 12 players returning for the 2016 squad will be anxious to remedy that situation.

The squad to tour USA, Ireland and England looks light in the outside backs - though one more player is to be added - and heavy in the front-row. Including new captain Ash Dixon and Marcel Renata, a prop who can play hooker, there are four players who can wear the No 2 jersey, and five props.

Otago's Tom Franklin will be one of three locks, though he will be disappointed he has dropped down the All Blacks' pecking order, where he appears to have been superseded by Scott Barrett.

New Zealand Under 20s captain, hooker Leni Apisai of Wellington, is one of six new caps, though that number includes, surprisingly, Northland loose forward Kara Pryor, not because he is not up to it, quite the opposite, but because he has never previously turned out for the Maori All Blacks. Another loose forward Whetu Douglas, who has skippered Waikato, makes his second national side after the New Zealand Universities.

Marty McKenzie is one of three who plays No 10, so he may well be used at fullback, while 29-year-old midfielder Tim Bateman, who has been turning out for Tasman B after a sabbatical in Japan, wins a recall, as does first five Ihaia West, who was disappointed to miss the cut in 2015.

Maori All Blacks coach Colin Cooper, whose own focus on this team was ironically helped by his Taranaki side bowing out of the Premiership semifinals stage, unlike in 2014, congratulated all those selected.

"This is an exciting time for all those involved in this special team. We're delighted with the squad we have announced today - we think there's an incredible mix of experience and very wise heads, and a special crop of new talent that has been exciting to watch in action in Super Rugby and Mitre 10 Cup.

"This team continues to be an important opportunity for players looking to push for higher honours. We are particularly delighted for Rieko Ioane who was named for the first time with the All Blacks on Sunday - and he joins several Māori All Blacks who have earned a call-up to the All Blacks in recent years - Nehe Milner-Skudder, Codie Taylor, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Joe Moody, Brad Weber, Elliot Dixon, Liam Squire, Damian McKenzie and last year's skipper Charlie Ngatai, currently unavailable due to concussion."

Ash Dixon will take over from Charlie Ngatai in the captain's role.

"We continue to work closely with the All Blacks coaches to ensure that we are aligned and these selections demonstrate the strength of the Maori All Blacks as a high performance team. It's also good that both teams are in Chicago and the United Kingdom at the same time, so that we can retain that alignment," Cooper said.

"We are looking forward to heading to Chicago to play the USA Eagles. Playing any national side is an honour, and they're a team that's really cementing their place in international rugby. Our matches against Munster and Harlequins will also be very special as we love taking the Māori All Blacks' style of rugby to other countries."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has already indicated that an early injury to one of his props would mean the likes of Kane Hames could be called upon without too much logistical hassle.

Six players still involved in Mitre 10 Cup finals will join the squad in Auckland after their matches this weekend. Those men are James Lowe, Billy Guyton, Shane Christie, Reed Prinsep, Franklin and Hames.

The squad flies out on Sunday night for Chicago.

Match schedule:

Friday November 4 v USA Eagles, Toyota Park, Chicago
Friday November 11 v Munster, Thomond Park, Limerick
Wednesday November 16 v Harlequins, Twickenham Stoop, London

Maori All Blacks touring squad: Marty McKenzie, James Lowe, Sean Wainui, Jason Emery, Matt Proctor, Tim Bateman, Ihaia West, Otere Black, Brad Weber, Billy Guyton, Whetu Douglas, Akira Ioane, Kara Pryor, Shane Christie, Reed Prinsep, Leighton Price, Jacob Skeen, Tom Franklin, Ben May, Mike Kainga, Chris Eves, Kane Hames, Marcel Renata, Ash Dixon (c), Leni Apisai, Joe Royal.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 22 Feb 2017 16:07:51 Processing Time: 638ms