Douglas excited to be back in Rotorua with Māori All Blacks

By James Perry

Whetukamokamo Douglas is looking forward to an emotional homecoming in Rotorua tomorrow night when he gets a start at No. 8 for the Māori All Blacks game against Fiji.

Getting a start this week means Douglas will walk out on to Rotorua Stadium in front of many of his Ngāti Whakaue whānau.  He will also play in honour of his uncle Shaun who tragically passed away earlier this year, aged only 50 while at work as Acting Principal at Owhata Primary School in Rotorua.

"It just helps everyone come together at another event, not under a cloak of sadness. It's about kotahitanga and about Māoritanga and bringing us together again in a happy light," Douglas says. 

He's one of five players elevated from the bench last week to the run-on side this week.

He will swap places with Akira Ioane at the back of the scrum, meaning a slight positional switch after spending the majority of the Super Rugby season on the side of the champion Crusaders scrum.

However, it isn't a new position to him, having filled in there in Keiran Read's absence this year. 

"I've had this week and last week to get my head around it and our systems, so it feels like this week's been quite a good exchange from 6 to 8- I'd have to say I'm ready," he says.

As well as his Ngāti Whakaue whānau, Douglas is expecting a large turnout of whānau from the other side of his whakapapa as well. 

"I've got a busload coming from over Ngāti Porou. I've got a marae booked here in Rotorua, and they're going to make sure the crowd is on our side," he says.

Crusaders teammate Bryn Hall is another player brought into the starting team, replacing Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi. The Ngāi Te Rangi halfback is also excited to be playing in front of his whānau, even if there won't many as Douglas' busload.

He says his mum and dad and a few other relatives will make the trip across from Tauranga Moana. 

"I don't get to see them a lot," he says, "It's going to be great to see family and friends- and hopefully have a good result Saturday night as well."

The game kicks off at 7.30pm on Saturday night, with the Māori under 20s taking Fiji under 20s in the curtain-raiser at 5pm.