Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby prop Pouri Rakete-Stones jnr will dedicate any minutes he has for the Maori All Blacks to his late grandmother, Heeni Rakete.
A 2017 world champion Baby Black, Rakete-Stones was this week called into the Maori All Blacks squad which will play Fiji in Suva on Saturday and in Rotorua on July 20 as a late replacement for fellow Magpie Ben May who collected a calf injury. Rakete-Stones' grandmother, who is of Ngapuhi descent, died on June 16, a day before his 22nd birthday.
"Pouri and his nan were really close. She got to see him play for the New Zealand under-20s but never got to see him play for the Maori All Blacks," Rakete-Stones' father and former Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports premier club coach Pouri snr said.
"Mum is from Rahiri in the Far North. We were taking her up there for her tangi when Pouri jnr got a phone call from Josh [Magpies assistant coach Syms] to tell him he was on the Maori All Blacks selectors' radar. Last Friday he was called into their camp in Rotorua to train with the squad and on Tuesday he was told he had 50 minutes to pack and get ready for the trip to Fiji.
"He messaged me ... Your son is a Maori All Black. It was a proud moment for all of his whanau," Pouri snr explained.
"It's a huge step to go from club rugby to the Maori All Blacks. I know Pouri jnr has been saying for the last couple of seasons securing a Super contract has been his main goal but the Maori All Blacks has been his biggest goal ... he just wanted to keep that one quiet."
While Rakete-Stones, who has played 18 first-class games for the Magpies, prefers the tighthead role he is happy to play the looshead role and was a hooker during his two seasons in the Napier Boys' High School 1st XV. He can squat 300kgs, a record for any Magpie, bench press 185kgs and deadlift 280kgs.
"That's a solid foundation," added his father who has represented New Zealand in three codes - strongman competitions, powerlifting and wood chopping.
Rakete-Stones' great-great uncle played as a forward for the 1921 Maori All Blacks who were beaten 9-8 by the Springboks at Napier's McLean Park.
Coincidently, it was an injury to May which allowed Rakete-Stones to make 10 first-class appearances, eight as a starter, for the Magpies in 2017.
Magpies head coach Mark Ozich was thrilled to hear of Rakete-Stones' selection.
"It's unreal for Pouri and a great opportunity. It's a proud moment for him and the province. It will provide a connection with his culture and it will be great for him to get into that envinronment and experience the tradition and heritage which comes with being a Maori All Black," Ozich said.
Rakete-Stones has missed out on the playing 23 for Saturday's match. Long-serving Maori All Blacks and Magpies captain Ash Dixon will start at hooker and newly contracted Magpies lock Isaia Walker-Leawere will also start for the tourists.
Hurricanes and Waikato utility back Fletcher Smith is the only member of the starting XV who will make his debut for the tourists and he will start at fullback. All Blacks and Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris, Waikato prop Haereiti Hetet, Chiefs and Tasman centre Alex Nankivell and Highlanders and Northland outside back Jordan Hyland will all make their Maori All Blacks debuts off the subs bench.
The full Maori All Black team for Saturday is:
Fletcher Smith, Shaun Stevenson, Rob Thompson, Teihorangi Walden, Sean Wainui, Otere Black, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Akira Ioane, Mitch Karpik, Reed Prinsep, Tom Franklin, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Turel Lomax, Ash Dixon (captain), Ross Wright. Substitutes: Forwards, Nathan Harris, Haereiti Hetet, Marcel Renata, Pari Pari Parkinson, Whetukamokamo Douglas. Backs, Bryn Hall, Alex Nankivell, Jordan Hyland.