Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris, Hurricanes first-five Fletcher Smith, Chiefs midfielder Alex Nankivell and Highlanders wing Jordan Hyland are all included in the side for the first time, while there is plenty of experience elsewhere throughout the squad.
Harris is one of many discarded All Blacks that weren’t named in Steve Hansen’s 39-man Rugby Championship squad on Tuesday night that have instead been named in this Maori squad.
They include one-test soon-to-be Hurricanes prop Tyrel Lomax, three-test Highlanders loose forward Elliot Dixon, uncapped Blues No. 8 Akira Ioane, three-test Chiefs halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, and uncapped Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall.
While the sextet of All Blacks contenders aren’t likely to be involved in the Rugby Championship, the Maori All Blacks provides them with an opportunity to keep pushing for national selection should injury strike any of the players currently in Steve Hansen’s squad.
Head coach Clayton McMillan said that one prop is likely to be added to the side before the squad departs for Fiji next week.
“With six players (Harris, Lomax, Dixon, Ioane, Hall and Tahuriorangi) in our mix with All Blacks experience, we can take a very solid squad to Suva and then on to Rotorua.
“Pulling on the Maori All Blacks jersey is a wonderful opportunity, and I know that these players will want to represent their heritage, their whanau and their country well. These next two fixtures will allow players to showcase what they have, and really put their best foot forward for higher honours.”
Keeping the All Blacks hopefuls prepared for an unpredictable call-up to the national side is a Fijian outfit that will be itching to prove their worth after much hype has been made about their World Cup chances.
This series kicks-off an elongated build-up to the global showpiece event for John McKee’s 38-man squad, which features the likes of Olympic gold medal-winning Racing 92 lock Leone Nakarawa, new Melbourne Rebels halfback Frank Lomani, and powerful midfielders and outside backs such as Semi Radradra of Bordeaux and Josua Tuisova of Toulon.
Following the completion of the two-match series, Fiji will then head into the Pacific Nations Cup, where they will play Japan, Canada and Samoa, before facing Tonga at Eden Park in Auckland as part of the Pasifika Challenge II on August 2.
Maori All Blacks 26-man squad to face Fiji in Suva and Rotorua (bold denotes new cap):
Ash Dixon (Ngati Tahinga) Hawke’s Bay / Highlanders
Nathan Harris (Ngati Apakura /Tainui) Waikato / Chiefs
Tyrel Lomax (Ngai Tuhoe/Muaupoko) Tasman / Highlanders
Ben May (Ngati Maniapoto) Hawke’s Bay / Hurricanes
Marcel Renata (Ngati Whanaunga/Ngai Takoto) Auckland/ Blues
Ross Wright (Ngati Whatua/Ngati Porou) Northland / Blues
Tom Franklin (Ngati Maniapoto) Otago / Highlanders
Pari Pari Parkinson (Te Whanau a Apanui) Tasman / Highlanders
Isaia Walker-Leawere (Ngati Porou) Hawkes Bay / Hurricanes
Whetukamokamo Douglas (Ngati Porou/Ngati Whakaue) Canterbury / Crusaders
Elliot Dixon (Ngapuhi) Southland/ Highlanders
Akira Ioane (Ngapuhi/Te Whanau a Apanui) Auckland / Blues
Mitchell Karpik (Rongomaiwahine/Ngati Kahungunu) Bay of Plenty / Chiefs
Reed Prinsep (Te Rarawa) Canterbury / Hurricanes
Bryn Hall (Ngati Ranginui) North Harbour / Crusaders
Jonathan Ruru (Ngati Kahungunu/Rongomaiwahine) Auckland / Blues
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Ngati Pikiao) Taranaki / Chiefs
Otere Black (Ngai Tuhoe/Te Whanau a Apanui/Ngati Tuwharetoa) Manawatu / Blues
Jackson Garden-Bachop (Ngati Awa) Wellington / Hurricanes
Fletcher Smith (Ngati Kahungunu) Waikato / Hurricanes
Alex Nankivell (Ngapuhi) Tasman / Chiefs
Rob Thompson (Ngati Kahungunu / Nga Rauru) Manawatu / Highlanders
Teihorangi Walden (Te Atiawa) Taranaki / Highlanders
Jordan Hyland (Ngai Tahu) Northland / Highlanders
Shaun Stevenson (Ngapuhi) North Harbour / Chiefs
Sean Wainui (Ngai Tuhoe/Ngati Porou) Taranaki / Chiefs
Maori All Blacks v Fiji schedule:
Fiji v Maori All Blacks at ANZ National Stadium, Suva, July 13
Maori All Blacks v Fiji at Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua, July 20
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