The selection of Damian McKenzie at No10 for the New Zealand Maori against the British and Irish Lions is a direct response to the tourists' kicking game and line speed on defence, a move from head coach Colin Cooper which signals that all-out attack is the only option.

It's a move, too, which will allow McKenzie to play his natural game at Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday; with his fast hands, feet, and speed of thought. McKenzie has started only one match at first-five for the Chiefs this season, and will expect to see plenty of huge figures in red running down his channel, but it is probably the safer spot for him.

The much bigger James Lowe is starting at fullback and he and his two colleagues in the back three, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Rieko Ioane, are expecting the night sky to rain with high balls as the Lions revert to the tactics which brought them success against the Crusaders. Lowe's height and natural ability to better handle the knocks adds a better balance at the back.

There is no doubting the opportunity for McKenzie, who missed selection for the All Blacks squad after being included at the end of last year, and the Maori as a whole.


McKenzie, 22 and a little over 80kg, is a specialist first-five until he began playing for the New Zealand Under-20s where he widened his portfolio. He is seen as a No10 by the national selectors, and re-learning the ropes there will do his international ambitions no harm.

"I haven't had a really good crack there so it's obviously a good opportunity this weekend and hopefully I can make the most of it," McKenzie said.

Another with similar hopes is Milner-Skudder, also not included in Hansen's squad because of a lack of recent game time due to injuries.

Milner-Skudder is a nephew of Matt Te Pou, the coach who guided the Maori to their famous win over the Lions 12 years ago and whom has spoken to the current squad this week.

The little Hurricanes wing is starting on the right wing, marking the tall and powerful George North, whom he described as "the big fella", a man Milner-Skudder hopes to stop early.

Milner-Skudder seems a certainty to return to the All Blacks in the short term after shoulder and foot injuries. Since his latest problem he has played only 25 minutes off the bench for the Hurricanes against the Force, but said: "I did all the hard work in the past eight or nine weeks so I'm pretty happy with all my rehab and the place where I'm at now. I just have to go out there and express myself and play with no worries about anything."

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Maori coach Colin Cooper is expecting the Lions to kick, to drive their lineout in the hope of winning penalties, and to rush up on defence, an assumption borne from watching Warren Gatland's men play against the Crusaders, but also from the Maori tour late last year when they lost to Munster before beating Harlequins.

"We certainly got taught a lesson over there [against Munster] and we learned the mindset of the UK player," Cooper said. "We're a lot more armed and ready for the battle against the Lions from that experience."

Cooper said guiding the team was relatively easy despite the short preparation time. "It's more the mental side of it. We've used the Maori culture ... to connect the group mentally, to focus on who they're representing and the shedding of the Super teams, the shedding of the provincial teams, and just coming together as a group."

Skipper Liam Messam said: "We're bound by blood. You can't take it for granted, you still need to make that connection inside the group. We've still got the silver fern on our chest, we're still representing New Zealand, Aotearoa, so when you come into this environment you put away the Super Rugby sides... the quicker we can do that the better because we've literally had only one team training together."

Maori All Blacks

James Lowe, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Matt Proctor, Charlie Ngatai, Rieko Ioane, Damian McKenzie, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Liam Messam, Elliot Dixon, Akira Ioane, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler, Ben May, Ash Dixon (c), Kane Hames

Reserves: Hikawera Elliot, Chris Eves, Marcel Renata, Leighton Price, Kara Pryor, Bryn Hall, Ihaia West, Rob Thompson