Sport | Māori All Blacks

'We can compete against the best teams': Māori All Blacks coach wants more games for his team

By Raniera Harrison

Māori on-field charisma and flair were front and centre at Wellington's Sky Stadium last night as the Māori All Blacks suffered their first loss, 30-24 against a defiant Ireland side in their two-match series.

The game between the two sides was played in front of a crowd of 11,256 in what can only be described as heinous conditions at times. The game itself, marred with numerous yellow cards, came on the same day as discussions were taking place over the viability of a larger playing schedule for the Māori All Blacks side in an already crowded international playing window.

"Is two games enough? Is two games enough? Hmm, that's a good question," was the response from a resolute Māori All Blacks coach, Clayton McMillan speaking to media after the defeat.

"If we had been demolished over two games, it would have been easy to say 'well, your level is over there.' I think we've showcased in two games that we can compete against the best teams," McMillan said.

Added to that, New Zealand Māori Rugby Board chair Professor Farah Palmer is certain that discussions are taking place to make sure the Māori flair, as was on display against the Irish, can be seen more often.

Not a tier two type game

The Māori All Blacks have no end-of-year tour scheduled but, following their success against the #2 ranked team in the world, Irish head coach, Andy Farrell believes the Māori All Blacks side can foot it against tier one nations.

This turnaround from Ireland's midweek team represents a major milestone. Handing the Māori just the third defeat from their last 31 internationals speaks to the pride the locals have in their jersey and performance.

"We certainly feel that this is certainly not a tier two, tier three type of game for us. With the side that we were putting out, a newish side that's learning together and trying to develop the squad - we've said all along this is like five test matches for us. There's no doubt about that," Farrell said.

Historically speaking, the odds are in the young Māori All Blacks' favour. Māori rugby statistics show that the All Blacks, Springboks and Welsh national teams are the only teams in history that have not lost to the Māori side.

The Māori team has beaten the Wallabies on six occasions and the #1 World Rugby ranked France twice.

Māori heritage

McMillan hopes that those who hold the power of decision-making will look preferably upon the Māori team following their performances against Ireland. "Hopefully we've done enough to get the decision-makers to start looking early for the opposition. It's something else that we can look forward to," McMillan said.

Māori All Blacks, co-captain Brad Weber (Ngāti Porou) said that there was deeper reasoning for why his team should get more international tier one game time.

"It [being a part of the Māori All Blacks environment] inspired other people in my family to dig in deeper to our Māori heritage and that's probably been the biggest part of me being in the side is that I'm learning more about me."

Whether the Irish triumph in Wellington last night, in their fourth match against the Māori All Blacks, carries a good sign for the Irish top test side against the All Blacks at the same venue is yet to be seen but the Māori All Blacks are certain they have lost but not been defeated.