Māori All Blacks expecting tougher opposition in second Irish clash

By James Perry

Despite their big win in the first match against Ireland in Hamilton, the Māori All Blacks are preparing for a much-improved opposition on Tuesday night in Wellington.

Assistant coach Chris Gibbes (Tainui) is expecting the team of largely inexperienced international players to be much improved after three weeks together on tour.

"Like any team that's come together pretty late, they will definitely improve. They've learned a little bit about us, and we've learned a lot about them, so we're expecting them to be a different challenge."

Winger Shaun Stevenson (Ngāpuhi) is expecting a strong showing from the Irish players, who will be fighting for selection in the third and final test against the All Blacks just four days later.

"I'm sure they've got plenty of players that are fighting to get some game time, whether that would be in the top side or against us. I'm sure they're going to come out humming and ready to put out a big performance."

Second half struggle

The Māori All Blacks are also looking to improve on their own performance, especially finishing the second half with a strong showing after struggling in the first game.

"We scored 32 points but we weren't able to get across the line in that second half, and I think that's the challenge for this group. We had some really good opportunities but we weren't quite in that game. We didn't hold on to possession or treasure it enough in the first part of that second half. 

"But what we did do well was we were very brave and had a lot of courage around our defence. We want to keep applying our game and get a bit more out of that second half as we did in that first half," Gibbes said.

Stevenson says playing for the full 80 minutes is very much the focus among the players.

"Ireland came out with a stronger case in the second half, so yeah getting out there and playing for the full 80 minutes and throwing our attacking punches throughout the whole second half as well."

Not many changes

Gibbes says his squad won't be looking to change too much from their first game, where they put the Irish under a lot of pressure early, allowing the Māori All Blacks to run riot in the first half to race out to a 32-10 halftime lead.

"We didn't allow them to get into the game early on, and I think from our perspective that's what caused pressure on them was the way that we started and played. We'll be looking to replicate that again this weekend."

Stevenson says the Māori side are looking forward for another chance to play some exciting Māori rugby, despite weather forecasts predicting rain and showers in the capital.

"We did that from the outset last game. The conditions were wet beforehand but good old Hamilton came through and dried off for us. But obviously, Wellington, it's always windy and rainy down here so fingers crossed it's dry weather. But we're going to keep playing Māori footy and throw the ball around from the first minute to the 80th minute. Expect to see some running footy from all over the place."