All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara showed his support for protesters at an Auckland housing development site when he wrote "Ihumātao" on the wristband he wore during the Bledisloe Cup decider at Eden Park on Saturday night.
The dispute over the housing development planned on the 33ha site in Māngere, South Auckland, has erupted since those occupying the land — regarded as sacred to mana whenua — were served eviction notices last month.
Perenara has long been one of the more outspoken All Blacks and his form of protest posed no concerns for All Blacks management after the 36-0 thrashing of Australia.
"It's his decision, it doesn't bother me," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. "I didn't even notice it, to be honest. They write all sorts of stuff on their wristbands these blokes today."
Protesting social issues is not new within the All Blacks. Three years ago, New Zealand Maori prop Kane Hames wore a "Standing Rock" wristband in support of the indigenous people in North Dakota, USA, who were protesting the building of an oil pipeline.
Then, New Zealand Rugby, who have guidelines around what players can write on their apparel during matches, stopped short of telling him not to do it again. At the time, then NZR general manager Neil Sorensen said: "There's an expectation that staff and players do not involve themselves in conduct that may bring their employer, and the game, into disrepute."
Meanwhile, the on-going protest at Ihumātao looks set to loom over a private meeting between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Maori King set down for this week.
Ardern, who presented the Bledisloe Cup to All Blacks captain Kieran Read on Saturday night, will tomorrow travel to Tūrangawaewae Marae in Ngāruawāhia for King Tuheitia's annual Koroneihana, or coronation commemorations.
King Tuheitia has offered to act as an intermediary in the dispute between Ihumātao's iwi authority — which supports the planned development by Fletcher Building — and those opposing it, led by Pania Newton and the Save Our Unique Landscape group. The Kiingitanga has previously supported the development.
The Government's position has been to let mana whenua involved in the dispute find a resolution.
On Saturday night, the All Blacks reversed a 47-26 thrashing by Australia in Perth the previous week by posting one of their biggest wins against their long-time rivals just weeks from the start of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Hansen made a number of personnel changes for the test and all his gambles paid off with young wingers Sevu Reece and George Bridge — replacing dropped stars Ben Smith and Reiko Ioane — each scoring a try.
Despite the big win, New Zealand slipped to No2 in the world rankings, overtaken by Wales who beat England in a World Cup warm-up game yesterday morning (NZ time).
Hansen did raise an eyebrow at Wales overtaking New Zealand, saying: "How do you work that out? I've never understood their system. You win a game and you lose the top ranking. We just need to get ourselves in the right frame of mind to go to the World Cup and win that so we're not too worried."