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'Daunting walking in': A Maori great has given Ireland a pep talk

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Ex-Munster midfielder Rua Tipoki has visited the Ireland squad at their Auckland hotel ahead of their opening tour match versus Maori All Blacks in Hamilton next Wednesday. The 46-year-old from Gisborne, who played Super Rugby for the Blues and the Crusaders, was part of the Maori team that defeated the 2005 British and Irish Lions at the same stadium in the Waikato where the Irish will play in a few days’ time. 

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It was 2007 when Tipoki was recruited by Munster and in his two years living in Cork, he helped them to Heineken Cup glory versus Toulouse in his first season and a Celtic League title the next season.  

He returned to New Zealand after his stint in Ireland ended and, 13 years later, he has now reconnected with some familiar Irish faces when visiting Rydges Hotel for a pep talk on what it means for players to represent the Maori, a team that Andy Farrell’s squad will play twice on tour as a second match is scheduled for Wellington on July 12.  

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“It was pretty daunting walking into the room, I didn’t know what to expect but it was really cool to catch up with Paul (O’Connell), Keith (Earls), Pete (O’Mahony) and some of the other boys. It was really a privilege and an honour to be in the room here,” Tipoki said in an irishrugby.ie video interview about his visit to the Ireland squad whose primary objective is the three-Test series against the All Blacks.

It was Tipoki who helped lead the Munster ‘haka’ along with the likes of Doug Howlett when the All Blacks played Munster at Thomond Park in 2008, and the Maori great addressed the Ireland squad while wearing an Ireland jersey given to him when he left the province the following year.

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“A close friend of mine, Jerry Flannery, gave this to me in my farewell in Cork,” he explained. “I just thought I would wear it tonight to remember the strong friendships I had over there but also the strong respect that I have for the experiences that I had in Ireland and also the love and support we were shown by the Irish people while we were there. 

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“If there is one team in the world that Kiwis love to support outside of the All Blacks it’s the Irish but they are making a habit of beating the All Blacks now so I don’t know if they are going to too many Kiwis cheer for them in the Test matches.”

Ireland last played the Maori All Blacks in 2010, losing 31-28 in Rotorua, but Tipoki recalled giving the Maori a pep talk in 2016 before they played Munster in Limerick, a match the Irish side won 27-14. What does it mean for a player to represent the Maori?

“Probably similar to what it means for one of the Irish players to put on their jersey. I was asked the last time the Maoris toured Ireland and played against Munster, the Maori asked me to come in and speak to them and explain what it meant to play for Munster and I just told them that they have the same mentality.

“When the Maori play, it’s not just representing himself he’s representing his family and his tribal heritage connection. Each of those players is bringing all of that with them and it’s a big responsibility but like I said, Irish players are playing for their country. It’s similar.” 

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