Fiji series provides Māori ABs chance to prove All Blacks selectors wrong

By James Perry

Māori All Blacks head coach Clayton McMillan has named his 26 man-squad for the two-match series against Fiji.

The squad includes four newcomers, Nathan Harris (Ngāti Apakura, Tainui), Alex Nankivell (Ngāpuhi), Fletcher Smith (Ngāti Kahungunu) and Jordan Hyland (Ngāi Tahu). 

McMillan also welcomes six players with All Blacks experience, including Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Nathan Harris, who were both on the All Blacks end of year tour in 2018.  

While he says he is disappointed for those who weren't named in Steve Hansen's Rugby Championship squad last night, McMillan is looking forward to having them join his squad in Rotorua tomorrow. 

"I do have some idea around potentially why they have missed out. The challenge for us will now to improve on the areas that the coaches want to see them improve and to put their best foot forward.

"Their challenge and ours is to do exactly that and create a platform for them to push their way back into the All Blacks."

Hansen says all is not lost, with every player having the opportunity to push for a World Cup spot.  The Fijian series serves as an opportunity to put selectors under pressure. 

Hansen says, "If you're given an opportunity with New Zealand Māori against Fiji, that's an international game. If you can play that level and shine and say 'hey pick me,' then we'll look and then we have to make some choices." 

Other players with All Blacks experience to their name are Highlanders prop Tyrel Lomax (Tūhoe, Muaupoko), Eliot Dixon (Ngāpuhi), Akira Ioane (Ngāpuhi, Te Whānau ā Apanui) and Bryn Hall (Ngāti Ranginui).

One player the Māori All Blacks are pleased is not available for their side this year is Highlanders first five Josh Ioane. He made his debut for the Māori team on last year's tour to North and South America, and was last night named in the All Blacks squad.  The Te Rarawā five-eighth has had a standout season for the Highlanders this year.

Hansen says Ioane is by far the best of the young up-and-coming first fives in the country and was the obvious choice to replace the injured Damian McKenzie.

"He's playing confidently, he's running the side well and now we bring him into the All Blacks, he's definitely going to get an opportunity to go to Argentina because Richie's not going and we've only named three five-eights," Hansen says.

Māori All Black kaumātua, Luke Crawford said that, while it's an awesome achievement for Ioane, his elevation to the All Blacks should serve as extra inspiration to his Māori All Black teammates, showing that the Māori side is a great developmental pathway for young players to step to higher honours.

The Māori All Blacks assemble in Rotorua tomorrow, where they will begin preparations for their two-match series against Fiji starting in Suva next weekend.

One player is to be added in the coming days.

Kapa Ōpango Māori 2019:

FORWARDS 
Hookers:
Ash Dixon (Ngati Tahinga) Hawke's Bay / Highlanders.
Nathan Harris (Ngati Apakura /Tainui) Waikato / Chiefs.

Props:
Tyrel Lomax (Ngāi Tuhoe/Muaupoko) Tasman / Highlanders.
Ben May (Ngāti Maniapoto) Hawke's Bay / Hurricanes.
Marcel Renata (Ngāti Whanaunga/Ngāi Takoto) Auckland/ Blues.
Ross Wright (Ngāti Whatua/Ngāti Porou) Northland / Blues.

Locks:
Tom Franklin (Ngāti Maniapoto) Otago / Highlanders.
Pari Pari Parkinson (Te Whānau a Apanui) Tasman / Highlanders.
Isaia Walker-Leawere (Ngāti Porou) Hawkes Bay / Hurricanes.

Loose Forwards
Whetukamokamo Douglas (Ngāti Porou/Ngāti Whakaue) Canterbury / Crusaders.
Elliot Dixon (Ngāpuhi) Southland/ Highlanders.
Akira Ioane (Ngāpuhi/Te Whānau a Apanui) Auckland / Blues.
Mitchell Karpik (Rongomaiwahine/Ngati Kahungunu) Bay of Plenty / Chiefs.
Reed Prinsep (Te Rarawa) Canterbury / Hurricanes.

BACKS 
Halfbacks:

Bryn Hall (Ngāti Ranginui) North Harbour / Crusaders.
Jonathan Ruru (Ngāti Kahungunu/Rongomaiwahine) Auckland / Blues.
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Ngāti Pikiao) Taranaki / Chiefs.

First five-eighths:
Otere Black (Ngāi Tuhoe/Te Whānau a Apanui/Ngati Tuwharetoa) Manawatu / Blues.
Jackson Garden-Bachop (Ngāti Awa) Wellington / Hurricanes.
Fletcher Smith (Ngāti Kahungunu) Waikato / Hurricanes.

Midfielders
Alex Nankivell (Ngāpuhi) Tasman / Chiefs.
Rob Thompson (Ngāti Kahungunu / Ngā Rauru) Manawatū / Highlanders.
Teihorangi Walden (Te Atiawa) Taranaki / Highlanders.

Outside backs:
Jordan Hyland (Ngāi Tahu) Northland / Highlanders.
Shaun Stevenson (Ngāpuhi) North Harbour / Chiefs.
Sean Wainui (Ngāi Tuhoe/Ngāti Porou) Taranaki / Chiefs.