National | Māori Rugby

Māori identity at heart of under-18 rugby development

The New Zealand Māori Rugby national under 18 tāne development camp was on its final day today in Rotorua.

More than 60 of New Zealand’s best Māori rugby players had been selected from around the country to go into a camp that also connects its players to their Māori identity through reo, waiata, pepeha and karakia.

Today the players were divided into three teams and had the opportunity to show off their talent to selectors in a one-off trial in a bid to make the final U18 NZ Māori All Blacks team to play a national New Zealand secondary schools team in October.

Māori cultural adviser Kahurangi Falaoa (Ngāti Tuwharetoa) was excited about the raw talent of these players and said the future of Māori rugby was in good hands.

“In these teams, in my opinion, there are future All Blacks and Māori All Blacks,” Falaoa said.

Enthusiasm builds

Falaoa has been in camp over the past three days, supporting the boys in connecting with their Māori identity as many have not had the opportunity to learn or been bought up in an environment where te reo and traditional customs are used.

“In the beginning, some felt uncomfortable because they did not grow up in a Māori world, customs, language, or culture but they wanted to learn and strengthen those areas for themselves,” he said.

Andrew Samuels from Te Hapua Ngāti Kuri said he had to ring his nan to ask for his pepeha and she was elated her moko was asking those questions.

“Ko Piko te maunga, ko Parengarenga te moana, ko Ngāti Kuri te Iwi. It gives me a sense of where I am and who I can play for and it gives me my why, and why I play,” Samuels said.

Layken Tua from Ngāpuhi who captained one of the three teams trialling today was also excited about developing his rugby skills through the programme and said: “It’s just how we play, throw the pill around with no structure, the way we used to play when we were 10 years old, the coach says just give it a go, that’s Māori rugby and I love it.”

Six Māori All Blacks, 42 NPC players

New Zealand Rugby is backing such camps. The programme, E Tu Toa, has been running for five years. Kahu Carey is the overall kaiwhakahaere of Whutuporo Māori o Aotearoa with Māori rugby stalwart Tiki Edwards as part of his management and development team.

Carey said there have been six boys from the programme who played in the Māori All Blacks. Last year 42 boys played in the Mitre 10 Cup or Bunnings Cup.

“We just give them a chance to expose them to a Te Ao Māori world and identity is a big one so they can make all the changes on the rugby field but, once they find their identity it gives them a chance to mould that and weave that together,” he said.

New Zealand Rugby is also supporting and helping develop a pathway for young female Māori rugby players, E Tu Mareikura, led by Carey and the team. Under-18 female players around the country will attend a regional camp to be selected for a national camp in September. The national team will be selected to play a curtain raiser to a Women's World Cup game.