Māori All Blacks' tour to the Americas
The Māori All Blacks will play 3 games on the other side of the Pacific this year. The first game is against the USA as part of a triple header; then Brazil; followed by Chile. It's time to preview the tour and have a look at the possible squad.
The when and where of the tour
This year's fixtures are:
Sunday, 4 November 2018, k/o 12.00pm NZT (6.00pm local time): v USA at Soldier Field in Chicago; Sunday, 11 November 2018, k/o 11.00am NZT (7.00pm local time): v Brazil at Estádio do Morumbi in São Paulo; Sunday, 18 November 2018, k/o 8.00am NZT (4.00pm local time)*: v Chile at San Carlos de Apoquindo Stadium in Santiago.
*venues and kick-off times as provided on the hosts' websites; local times on the previous day.
EstádioCícero Pompeu de Toledo (the official name of Estádio do Morumbi) is the biggest private stadium in Brazil with an official capacity of 72,809, but often not more than 62,000 tickets are available for sale.
San Carlos de Apoquindo Stadium in Santiago, Chile, is a small football stadium with a capacity of just over 14,000 seats (although some sites give a number of 18,000).
How to watch
According to Brasil Rugby, the game against Brazil will be broadcast in New Zealand by Sky Sport and livestreamed on the allblacks tv website for viewers from New Zealand and other specific countries. It will also be livestreamed on Twitter (with Portuguese commentary) via the @brasilrugby account. New Zealand Rugby (NZR) hasn't provided any broadcast information, but presumably the games against the USA and Chile will also be broadcast by Sky TV in New Zealand and livestreamed by allblacks tv.
The game against the USA on 4 November is part of a triple header. The first test of the day will be a re-match of last year's Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final between the Black Ferns and the USA Eagles' women's team. This game kicks off at 6.00am NZT (12.00pm the previous day in local time) and is followed by a test match between Ireland and Italy, which starts at 9.00am NZT (3.00pm local time). The Māori All Blacks will take on the USA Eagles' men in the final game of the day.
This will be the fifth time the Māori All Blacks play the USA, having won all four previous matches: in Calgary in 2004 (69 - 31), in Santa Clara in 2006 (74 - 6), in Philadelphia in 2013 (29 - 19) and in Chicago in 2016 (54-7).
This tour will be the second time that the Māori All Blacks visit South America. In 1988, they played in Argentina and defeated Rosário by 88 - 12 and a Tucumán selection by 12 to 3. The Māori Al Blacks have played against one South American national team before: they beat Argentina 39 - 17 in 1997 (Napier) and 43 - 24 in 2001 (Rotorua).
The benefit of this tour to Brazil and Chile is obvious. The CEOs of both national unions have emphasised the importance of these games for the development and growth of rugby in their respective countries. Also the USA will use the occasion of the triple header to grow the game in the States. While playing the USA is no doubt good for NZR's coffers, you have to wonder what they get out of playing Brazil and Chile. The USA have improved the last 2 years and strong opposition can be expected on 4 November, but the Māori All Blacks will probably steamroll both South American opponents. These games won't offer much in terms of player development, at least not from a rugby point of view.
In their media release, NZR highlights the importance of this tour for developing a relationship with South America and, from a Māori perspective, connecting with indigenous communities in this region. After every Māori All Blacks tour, players rave about the cultural experience they've had; about connecting with their own heritage. No doubt, it won't be different this year. Tradition and celebration of Māori culture, it's an important reason why we still have a Māori All Blacks team to begin with. If NZR's only reason was the (rugby) development of players, we'd have tours of the Junior All Blacks instead. The question is, however, how much entertainment will these two matches provide New Zealand viewers if the Māori All Blacks simply crush their Brazilian and Chilean opponents? Or am I underestimating the South Americans?
Māori All Blacks games and performances (2012-2017)
The Māori All Blacks have played 15 games in the 2012-2017 period. The list of opponents includes international sides (Canada 3x, USA 2x, Japan 2x, Fiji), invitational teams (RFU Championship XV, NZ Barbarians, French Barbarians), European club teams (Leicester Tigers, Harlequins, Munster) and the British & Irish Lions. Of these 15 games, they have won 10 and lost five: in 2012 against Leicester Tigers, in 2015 against NZ Barbarians, in 2016 against Munster, and in 2017 against the British & Irish Lions and the French Barbarians. Two of their wins were close: the first of the two games against Japan in 2014 (18 - 20) and the game against Fiji in 2015 (26 - 27). A loss against the B&I Lions was to be expected, but the loss against the French Barbarians was disappointing, to say the least.
To be fair, it should be noted that the Māori All Blacks usually don't have much more than a week to prepare together for their games.
The 2018 Māori All Blacks coaching staff
Māori All Blacks (and Bay of Plenty) Head Coach Clayton McMillan will have two new assistant coaches for this tour: Roger Randle (Waikato Assistant Coach) and Joe Maddock (Canterbury Head Coach). This coaching group was also in charge of the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians against the British & Irish Lions in 2017.
The 2018 Māori All Blacks squad
The team selections have raised some eyebrows the last few years, particularly last year. No disrespect intended, but some players were unknown - at least outside their own province (Keepa Mewett is an example), or had not played much in New Zealand (e.g., Tyrel Lomax); and some positions were over- or underrepresented (in November 2017, the squad included five midfielders and two outside backs, forcing players to play out of position). It's arguable that better alternatives were available in some positions as well.
However, looking at the player pool this year, it becomes clear that the number of Māori players who are available in some positions is quite low and makes selection difficult (e.g., LH prop, hooker and first five-eighth). One of the reasons is the number of players who are currently playing overseas, including several players on short-term stints in Japan.
Capped players (2012-2017), who are not/no longer available
Jacob Ellison - retired
Kane Hames - injured
Josh Hohneck - Gloucester
Joe Moody - All Blacks
Ross Wright - Northland/injured?
Ben Afeaki - retired
Nick Barrett - retired
Brendon Edmonds - retired/injured (also LH)
Mike Kainga - unknown (is in NZ but not playing)
Bronson Murray (also LH) - retired
Ash Dixon - injured
Hika Elliott - Nevers
Quentin MacDonald - Oyonnax
Liam Polwart - BoP/injured?
Codie Taylor - All Blacks
Jarrad Hoeata - Taranaki/suspended
Jason Eaton - retired
Tom Franklin - Kobe Kobelco Steelers
Romana Graham - unknown (not retained by La Rochelle, May 2017)
Luke Katene - unknown
Keepa Mewett - NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes
Jacob Skeen - Ricoh Black Rams
Blade Thomson - Scarlets (also plays 6/8)
Hayden Triggs - retired
Joe Wheeler - Suntory Sungoliath
Heiden Bedwell-Curtis - Mitsubishi Dynaboars
Luke Braid - Bordeaux
Shane Christie - retired
Eliott Dixon - Ricoh Black Rams
Joe Edwards - Provence
Sam Henwood - injured
Liam Messam - Toulon
Sean Polwart - retired
Dan Pryor - Sanix Blues
Liam Squire - All Blacks/injured
Blade Thompson - Scarlets (also lock)
Jamison Gibson-Park - Leinster
Billy Guyton - retired
Tawera Kerr-Barlow - La Rochelle
Chris Smylie - unknown/retired?
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi - All Blacks
Frae Wilson - retired/club rugby?
Tim Bateman - Ricoh Black Rams (also midfield)
Damian McKenzie - All Blacks (also fullback)
Marty McKenzie - injured
Willie Ripia - unknown/retired?
Ihaia West - La Rochelle
Tim Bateman - Ricoh Black Rams (also first five-eighth)
Jason Emery - Sanix Blues
Charlie Ngatai - Lyon
Sean Wainui - Taranaki/injured (also wing)
Jackson Willison - Bath
Kurt Baker - AB7s
Ambrose Curtis - Wasps
Zac Guildford - Nevers
Rieko Ioane - All Blacks
James Lowe - Leinster
Damian McKenzie - All Blacks (also first five-eighth)
Kade Poki - Anglet Olympique (Fédérale 1, France)
Codey Rei - Kamaishi Seawaves (Japan)
Robbie Robinson - Ricoh Black Rams
Andre Taylor - Sanix Blues
Sean Wainui - Taranaki/injured (also midfield)
Joe Webber - AB7s
Who may or should be picked for the 2018 touring squad?
Looking at the list above, a lot of players from previous (recent) squads are unavailable for the 2018 tour. While it's not a given that previously capped players will be named in the squad again, their experience will be useful in the presence of - possibly - a considerable group of players making their debut.
Also necessary to keep in mind is that some players of the squad may not be available for the first match in Chicago. That will depend on whether any players named in the extended 51-man All Blacks squad for the match against Japan will also be selected for the Māori All Blacks. The All Blacks' test against Japan is only hours before the Māori All Blacks' game against the USA.
The list below starts with the previously capped (and available) players in each position, followed by other possible candidates for this year's tour. The net has been cast quite wide and the list includes a few very young players and players without Super Rugby experience, just to give them some thought, although this tour will probably come too soon for most of them or will be a level too high for some. Players are listed in alphabetical order. It's obvious, in some positions there's an abundance of choice, while we don't have many options in other positions.
Caveat: some players may have been left out (or included) - correctly or incorrectly - because of lack of information about their Māori lineage (genealogy).
Squad size in 2016: 26 players (of which 16 forwards and 10 backs); in 2017: 27 (of which 15 forwards and 12 backs.
PROPS (number of spots: 5 (2016 and 2017))
LH - capped
Chris Eves (North Harbour)
LH -other candidates ?
TH - capped
Tyrel Lomax (Tasman) - named in extended All Blacks squad
Ben May (Hawke's Bay) - also LH
Marcel Renata (Auckland)
TH - other candidates
Sean Paranihi (Manawatu) - was a late addition to last year's squad, but did not play
Pouri Rakete-Stones (Hawke's Bay) - spent time in camp last year, but did not play
Coree Te Whata-Colley (Counties Manukau)
My picks: Chris Eves, Tyrel Lomax, Ben May, Sean Paranihi, Marcel Renata.
HOOKERS (number of spots: 2 (2017) or 3 (2016))
Leni Apisai (Wellington - currently playing for their development team)
Joe Royal (Counties Manukau)
Kianu Kereru-Symes (Hawke's Bay)
Jesse MacDonald (Southland)
My picks: Kianu Kereru-Symes and Joe Royal.
Third hooker? I'm not keen on picking Apisai or MacDonald. Maybe the selectors will include another prop who can play hooker? That could be Pouri Rakete-Stones. Or they should convince Corey Flynn to wipe the dust off his boots.
LOCKS (number of sports: 3 (2016) or 4 (2017)
Nick Croswell (Manawatu)
Jackson Hemopo (Manawatu) - named in extended All Blacks squad
Leighton Price (Taranaki)
Matiaha Martin (Counties Manukau)
Paripari Parkinson (Tasman)
Manaaki Selby-Rickit (Southland) - injury status TBC
Isaia Walker-Leawere (Wellington)
unavailable due to injury:
Fin Hoeata (Taranaki)
My picks: Jackson Hemopo, Paripari Parkinson, Leighton Price, and Manaaki Selby-Rickit or Isaia Walker-Leawere.
LOOSE FORWARDS (number of spots: 4 (2016 and 2017)
Mitchell Crosswell (Taranaki)
Whetu Douglas (Canterbury)
Akira Ioane (Auckland)
Tanerau Latimer (Bay of Plenty)
Jordan Manihera (Waikato)
Reed Prinsep (Canterbury)
Kara Pryor (Northland)
Antonio Kiri (Manawatu)
Hoani Matenga (Bay of Plenty)
Jesse Parete (Taranaki)
Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa (Auckland)
Thomas Waldrom (Wellington)
My picks: Whetu Douglas, Reed Prinsep, Kara Pryor and Akira Ioane.
HALFBACKS (number of spots: 2 (2016) or 3 (2017))
Bryn Hall (North Harbour) - named in extended All Blacks squad
Jonathan Ruru (Auckland)
Brad Weber (Hawke's Bay)
Ereatara Enari (Canterbury)
Kemara Hauiti-Parapara (Wellington)
Sam Nock (Northland)
My picks: Bryn Hall, Jonathan Ruru and Brad Weber.
FIRST FIVE-EIGHTHS (number of spots: 2 (2016 and 2017))
Otere Black (Manawatu)
Jackson Garden-Bachop (Wellington)
Lincoln McClutchie (Hawke's Bay)
Jade Te Rure (Manawatu)
unavailable due to injury:
Tiaan Falcon (Hawke's Bay)
My picks: Otere Black, Jackson Garden-Bachop (the latter only because Falcon is injured and it may be too soon for McClutchie)
MIDFIELDERS (number of spots: 3 (2016 and 2017)
Teihorangi Walden (Otago)
Matt Proctor (Wellington) - also outside back; named in extended All Blacks squad
Rob Thompson (Manawatu)
Terrence Hepetema (Bay of Plenty)
Ngani Laumape (Manawatu) - named in extended All Blacks squad
Orbyn Leger (Counties Manukau)
Billy Proctor (Wellington)
Tamati Tua (Northland)
Quinn Tupaea (Waikato)
My picks: Ngani Laumape, Matt Proctor and Rob Thompson, with Teihorangi Walden as an extra player.
OUTSIDE BACKS (number of spots: 2 (2016) or 4 (2017))
Nehe Milner-Skudder (Manawatu) - named in extended All Blacks squad
Declan O'Donnell (Waikato)
Trent Renata (Wellington)
Shaun Stevenson (North Harbour)
Jonah Lowe (Hawke's Bay) - also midfield
Caleb Makene (Canterbury) - can cover 10
Bailyn Sullivan (Waikato)
Isaac Te Tamaki (Southland)
Beaudein Waaka (Taranaki) - can cover 10
Regan Ware (Taranaki)
Matt Wright (Northland)
My picks: Jonah Lowe, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Shaun Stevenson and Beaudein Waaka.
Chris Eves, Ben May, Tyrel Lomax, Sean Paranihi and Marcel Renata
Kianu Kereru-Symes and Joe Royal
Jackson Hemopo, Paripari Parkinson, Leighton Price, and Manaaki Selby-Rickit or Isaia Walker-Leawere
Whetu Douglas, Reed Prinsep, Kara Pryor and Akira Ioane
Bryn Hall, Jonathan Ruru and Brad Weber
Otere Black and Jackson Garden-Bachop
Ngani Laumape, Matt Proctor, Rob Thompson and Teihorangi Walden
Jonah Lowe, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Shaun Stevenson and Beaudein Waaka.