For what is sure to be a massive night in the history of Munster Rugby, we have been lucky enough to get a New Zealand rugby expert on the site to describe the visiting Maori All Blacks.
Steve Bottlik (Cornf1ake) is a successful rugby YouTuber who focuses on discussion and gaming areas. You can check out the proud Kiwi’s content videos here and follow his Twitter here. Make sure to check him out!
Ah, the end of year tour! The final statement of the Southern Hemisphere’s season and the real test against their mid-season northern rivals. But under the radar flies one side who is often forgotten about, despite the massive role it plays in assisting a portion of the next wave of All Blacks to the next level. We are of course talking about the Maori All Blacks!
This side is not quite what many people consider them, an All Blacks “A” team. The side actually has a selection requirement for players to have Maori heritage and belong to a Maori tribe or “iwi” to be selected – although this has not always been a hard rule in the past. The team is always full of passion and is fearless on the field. Because of this, they have built a reputation of a physical but highly skilled team that plays with plenty of flair and a squad built from experienced and young exciting Super Rugby talent. Many of which are often former, returning from injury, fringe or up and coming All Blacks. Similarities to the All Blacks pre-game also see the Maori perform their own Haka, called “Timatanga”. Spine tingling stuff!! In the past they have regularly competed at international level, playing in tournaments like the Pacific Nations Cup and the Churchill Cup. The side has a proud history, dating back to 1888!
Enough about their history, what does this 2016 squad offer? As we saw in their opening match of the tour vs the USA, the team has some serious talent. With the clever scheduling having the All Blacks close by could see them both extend use of the large pool of players. So who are some key players we should look out for?
The team is captained by Ash Dixon of the Highlanders who has a strong group of forwards behind him. The front row is an area they should consider a serious strength with Kane Hames (Chiefs and 1 All Black cap), Chris Eves and Ben May (both Hurricanes) alongside Dixon, combining a huge amount of experience at scrum time.
If you want danger, there’s just one name you need to look for, that’s Ioane. Either Akira or Rieko (both Blues) will fill your socks with excitement. Immensely powerful, fast and extremely illusive, they bring it all from the back row and the wing. They have the capability to tear a game to shreds in a single moment of brilliance.
I always talk about the halves being key to a teams threat and the Maori All Blacks have this covered. Brad Weber (Chiefs) already has All Black minutes under his belt with his snappy running game from the base of rucks. Outside him are two young 10s who have already impressed at U-20 level and begun to settle into Super Rugby. Otere Black (Hurricanes) and Ihaia West (Blues) both playmakers posses dangerous running games and should they be given the freedom to use them, along with an accurate kicking game.
Lastly my final threat to watch in this Maori All Blacks side is a man I feel should already be in black at the highest level, James Lowe. Lowe has been performing for the Chiefs season after season as a quality finisher and creative spark in their backline. He posses a thunderous punt, lightning speed and power you wouldn’t credit him for on first glance. Still at only 24 and like most of this Maori All Black side, time is on his side to become a name you may all well recognise in years to come.
Also add to this the possibility of some All Blacks being released into this squad for some matches! This team possesses so much quality. Quality that is grasping for an opportunity to set the world alight on the international stage. So don’t forget this side as they set sail to Munster and Harlequins for the remainder of this tour. Maybe remember some names you may well see wearing black in Japan in 2019!