Māori All Blacks' final preparations ahead of last game of the year

By James Perry

With no more matches planned for this year, the Māori All Blacks are wanting to finish their brief season off on a high tomorrow night in Rotorua.

Following their 27-10 defeat to Fiji last week in Suva, Ash Dixon believes the team has prepared well as they seek to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time in 50 years. 

"We've had a good week this week.  Obviously a bit of soul searching early on after a defeat like that, but the boys prepared well this week and hopefully we can put our plans in place," he said today ahead of the final training session at Rotorua Stadium.

While there has been persistent rain today in Rotorua, the forecast for tomorrow is for clear skies. 

Dixon says they prepared for both weather outcomes, "We'll make a call right before that game about what we're going to do with our tactics, but I'll say if it's like this, I think you've got a fair idea of what's going to be happening," he says.

To help them return to winning ways, some of the side delved into the game of Horohopu this morning at Rotorua's Sportsdome. 

Horohopu is a traditional Māori game using a long poi, and is similar in some regards to netball, basketball, and ki-o-rahi.  Prop Tyrel Lomax says there is some merit in playing traditional Māori games to help improve skills for rugby, in particular hand-eye coordination. 

"[It's] a bit tough trying to catch a poi, but it was a fun game," he says.

The Māori All Blacks also spent some time helping the Bay of Plenty rugby union develop future professional players skills today, taking the kids through some rugby drills.

The holiday program was overseen by members of the Bay of Plenty Women's team, the Volcanix.  Team member Maiau Holtham says it was great for the kids to see what's possible in rugby, and in particular to have a kaupapa Māori to go with it.  She says that the kids loved having the Māori All Blacks coming to spend time with them.

Speaking from personal experience, Lomax says opportunities like these have a positive effect on young kids. 

"This was me fifteen years ago, one of these kids at the holiday program that looked up to guys like the team that I'm playing in so it's really important and I'm sure it's really good for the kids."

Lomax, Dixon and the rest of the Māori All Black side can expect to see many of those kids at the game tomorrow night at Rotorua Stadium, as they all received a free ticket today. 

The game begins at 7.30pm on Saturday night.