Coach Clayton McMillan says the Māori All Blacks have an important place in the New Zealand rugby landscape and hosting Ireland should be another memorable occasion in the team’s proud history.
There was their 2017 fixture in Rotorua against Warren Gatland’s touring British and Irish Lions, which they lost 32-10, but it’s been 12 years since the Māori played a tier-one nation.
That long wait for a prized meeting with one of the game’s giants will end when the Māori host the Irish in two midweek matches in Hamilton (June 29) and Wellington (July 12).
McMillan, who balances his Chiefs job with coaching the Māori All Blacks, said it was massive to face a team of Ireland’s calibre.
“No disrespect to the countries we’ve faced over recent times, because we’ve played some really proud teams – Fiji, Samoa and the United States – and they’ve all been good opposition,” McMillan said.
“But the Māori team, historically, has always demonstrated the ability to step up and perform on the biggest stage.
“With Ireland coming down, it’s a tier-one nation in the world’s top four, having a bit of a purple patch.
“It’s a massive challenge, but one that will be embraced by the team and the public.”
World No 4 Ireland are coached by Andy Farrell and also play the All Blacks in three tests in July on their first New Zealand tour since 2012.
The Irish have beaten the All Blacks in three of their last five meetings since famously defeating New Zealand for the first time in Chicago in 2016.
The opening Māori match is three days before the first test at Eden Park and Ireland’s team is unlikely to feature many of its test stars, when the Irish have a shot at history, chasing their first victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand.
Ireland might never have a better chance, given their recent success, but Farrell’s extended squad should be talented nonetheless because of the quality domestic competition which the players are exposed to every week, facing the best in Europe in gigantic stadiums.
In fact, two former Māori All Blacks, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park, could be in Ireland’s teams against the Māori for a unique, spiritual homecoming, although both are also in the picture to play the All Blacks after featuring in this year’s Six Nations.
The Māori’s last crack at an individual tier-one team was in 2010 against Ireland and England – they won 31-28 and 35-28 in Rotorua and Napier respectively – when Liam Messam was captain and All Blacks Aaron Smith and Dane Coles were rising through the ranks.
That meeting was only the second with Ireland, with veteran first five-eighth Jonathan Sexton in Ireland’s line-up that night, and their first was in 1888 when the Māori, who were then known as the New Zealand Natives, won 13-4 at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road.
McMillan, the Māori All Blacks coach since Colin Cooper left the role in 2017, will pick a squad and a new captain after Super Rugby Pacific finishes in mid-June.
The congested international schedule means it’s been difficult for the Māori to get such plum fixtures.
Samoa last year and Fiji in 2019 (before Covid-19 tore up schedules in 2020) were their last international opponents after a tour of the Americas in 2018 for matches with the United States, Brazil and Chile.
The attraction of two clashes with Ireland will have added appeal for Māori players, who are already playing for so much more in this unique side, representing their iwi and whānau alongside their blood brothers.
McMillan said it was important for the Māori All Blacks to have a regular programme, although no fixtures are yet scheduled beyond the Irish challenge.
“I certainly feel as though there’s a strong sense of responsibility for us to perform, so it’s an inspiration for future generations.”
Ireland’s tour of New Zealand
June 29: Māori All Blacks vs Ireland at 7:05pm, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
July 2: All Blacks vs Ireland at 7:05pm, Eden Park, Auckland
July 9: All Blacks vs Ireland at 7:05pm, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
July 12: Māori All Blacks vs Ireland at 7:05pm, Sky Stadium, Wellington
July 16: All Blacks vs Ireland at 7:05pm, Sky Stadium, Wellington
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