The Māori All Blacks will play a two-match series against Fiji in July - with a home game set for Rotorua.
New Zealand Rugby announced today that the pride of the Māori All Blacks haka will face the fierce Fijian cibi when the two sides play in a home and away two-match series in July.
The Flying Fijians will have first home-advantage when the Māori All Blacks – assembling for the first time since their Americas end of year tour last year – head to Suva, Fiji, for their season opening match on Saturday, July 13. Both teams will then head to Rotorua to
face off again at Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday, July 20.
New Zealand Rugby Board chairwoman Dr Farah Palmer said the two-match series was a an exciting match up and a great opportunity for both Māori and Fijian rugby fans to celebrate their identities.
"This is truly exciting. We know that the Māori All Blacks' style of rugby is very popular around the world, and the team are often-sought ambassadors for the game," Dr Palmer said.
"Pitting the Māori All Blacks against a Flying Fijian side on a mission for Rugby World cup 2019, and with passionate supporters behind both teams, will be the perfect formula to create an epic encounter.
"Here, we have two teams that play an exciting and attractive style of rugby. The Māori All Blacks have had some classic matches here in the past and we know they have a huge support base in Rotorua.
Dr Palmer acknowledged the efforts of Bay of Plenty Rugby and Rotorua Lakes Council whose joint bid made it difficult to look anywhere else to host the second match.
"They are really embracing this opportunity to make the celebration of Māori and Pasifika rugby stretch over a whole week of activities."
Fiji Rugby chief executive John O'Connor said the match was a timely boost for the flying Fijians to prepare for the Rugby World Cup in Japan later in the year.
"Fiji Rugby is looking forward to hosting the Māori All Black here on the 13th of July at ANZ Stadium in Suva. It will be an ideal opportunity for fans to come in numbers and witness not only the Flying Fijians but also a powerful Māori All Blacks side."
Bay of Plenty Rugby chief executive Mike Rogers says the Māori All Blacks have a rich rugby history beginning with their first match played in the city more than 100 years.
"It's also a significant occasion for home town hero and Māori All Blacks head coach Clayton McMillan, it will be the first time the team has played in his home town under his tutelage.
"We are excited to host both teams – and while we know the Fijians are fiercely loyal – and vocal – supporters of their team – the Māori All Blacks is a very special team for us and this is a unique opportunity to watch them play at home," Rogers said.
Homegrown Māori All Blacks head coach Clayton McMillan said the Maori All Blacks had long wanted to play strong international sides.
"Fiji recorded that historical win against France during their end of year tour, and so they come into this year in impressive form. I think they will be a great challenge for us playing in their back yard, and here in Rotorua, a place that is very special to me.
"For us, there's a sense of unfinished business as we probably left our rugby public less than satisfied after our last home game against the British and Irish Lions in 2017. I know we'd certainly like to make that up to Maori All Blacks supporters," he said.
Meanwhile, the curtain-raiser for the match will be a Fijian Under-20 side and a New Zealand Māori Under-20 side.
With both teams arriving in the city one week before the match, Councillor Charles Sturt, who leads the Rotorua Lakes Council sport and recreation portfolio, says there will be plenty of Māori and Pacifica events leading up to the match.
"We're thrilled Rotorua has been chosen to host this match. Rotorua has declared its commitment to becoming a bi-cultural district and Te Arawa culture is a core fabric of our local community so we have a special affinity with the Māori All Blacks.
"We also have a strong Pacifica community in Rotorua, and we will have a number of events outside of the game to celebrate all things Pacifika.
"And, of course, we have a very proud history of producing some of New Zealand's rugby greats who have played for both the Māori All Blacks and the All Blacks.
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