The sound of the famous Māori All Blacks Haka 'Timatanga' is set to reverberate around Rotorua’s International Stadium, as the Māori side lays down the challenge to the British and Irish Lions.
Guided by the vastly experienced duo of Head coach and former Māori All Black Colin Cooper and Assistant Coach Tana Umaga. The Māori squad will present a formidable adversary for their arguably more highly fancied opponents from the British and Irish Isles.
The tourists will be looking to get one back after famously losing to the Māori All Blacks, 13 – 19 in 2005 in Hamilton. The 2005 Lion’s squad featured one of world rugby’s all-time greats Brian O’Driscoll who infamously was forced from the tour after ‘the tackle’ by Māori All Blacks assistant coach Tana Umaga and fellow All Black Kevin Mealamu.
Former Māori All Black and Taranaki Hooker Felix O’Carroll who himself played against the Lions in 1977 for Taranaki says, “It will be a close game they are up against a virtual Lions test side and the Lions are hurting.”
O’Carroll says the Lions would have seen how the All Blacks played last night and will take their game up another level tonight.
Mental toughness will be key in staying competitive says O'Carroll, “Māori can get themselves built up a bit too much, the heart speaks further than the mind. If they keep their emotions right I think they will win.”
Captained by Ash Dixon the side has no less than 9 current or former All Blacks.
The Māori backline would be the envy of many international teams and will be lead at 10 by the mercurial Damian McKenzie who was a surprise omission from the All Blacks squad to face the Lions. An All Blacks recall is only a matter of if, not when, and McKenzie will be looking to assert himself in the pivot position and guide his team around the park.
Complementing the backs the Māori also present a solid and experienced forward pack says Te Kāea sports presenter Eru Paranihi. He says the men in the loose trio can match it with anyone on their day with veteran Liam Messam leading the charge. If there was one weak spot it would be in the locks and then that is pushing it.
The Lions have themselves named a strong squad with some players looking to make a point following their surprise 22-23 loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Lions fan Martin Smithson is predicting a Lions win, “I don’t think the Māori pack is heavy enough but they are evenly matched in the backs.”
Kawe Kōrero Sports expert Jamie Wall predicts a close game and felt that with the weather turning it could mirror the Crusaders vs Lions match with the visitors looking to kick goals.
Lions fans are amazed by the atmosphere in Rotorua and are praising the host city.
“The atmosphere is absolutely phenomenal, now the tour is starting everyone is starting to congregate, people coming off planes buses, campervans it’s what the tour is all about,” says Martin Smithson.
All being said and done there is no doubting in fans and sports enthusiasts minds that tonight’s match will be one to savor and that rugby is the winner on the day.
Māori All Blacks team to face the British & Irish Lions in Rotorua
1. Kane Hames – Tasman (Ngai Tuhoe/Ngati Porou)
2. Ash Dixon (captain) - Hawke’s Bay (Ngati Tahinga)
3. Ben May – Hawke’s Bay (Ngati Maniapoto/Tainui)
4. Joe Wheeler – Tasman (Ngai Tahu)
5. Tom Franklin - Bay of Plenty (Ngati Maniapoto)
6. Akira Ioane – Auckland (Ngapuhi/Te Whanau a Apanui)
7. Elliot Dixon – Southland (Ngapuhi)
8. Liam Messam – Waikato (Ngai Tuhoe)
9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow – Waikato (Waikato/Ngati Maniapoto)
10. Damian McKenzie - Waikato (Ngati Tuwharetoa/Ngati Tahinga)
11. Rieko Ioane – Auckland (Ngapuhi/Te Whanau a Apanui)
12. Charlie Ngatai – Taranaki (Ngati Porou/Te Whanau a Apanui/Te Whakatohea)
13. Matt Proctor – Wellington (Ngapuhi/Ngaiterangi)
14. Nehe Milner-Skudder – Manawatu (Ngati Porou/Tapuika)
15. James Lowe – Tasman (Ngapuhi/Ngai Te Rangi)
16. Hikawera Elliot - Counties Manukau (Ngati Awa)
17. Chris Eves – Manawatu (Waikato/Tainui)
18. Marcel Renata – Auckland (Ngati Whanaunga/Te Aupouri
19. Leighton Price – Taranaki (Waikato/Ngati Maniapoto)
20. Kara Pryor – Northland (Ngati Awa/Ngati Pikiao/Ngati Rangitihi)
21. Bryn Hall - North Harbour (Ngati Ranginui)
22. Ihaia West – Hawke’s Bay (Ngati Kahungunu/Ngati Porou)
23. Rob Thompson - Canterbury (Ngati Kahungunu)
Video Courtesy of Jamie Wall and Rugby Pass