The Maori All Blacks and Moana Pasifika will make history in Hamilton on Saturday when the two teams face off against each other for the first time in history.
In fact, it will be Moana Pasifika’s first-ever appearance as they prepares for life in Super Rugby in two years’ time, and there is shortage of talent brimming within the side in this exhibition match.
The same can be said of the Maori All Blacks, so here are five of the key players on show at FMG Stadium Waikato.
Ash Dixon (Maori All Blacks)
Were it not for his age, there would be many a fan in uproar over the fact that Ash Dixon didn’t feature at all for the All Blacks this year.
An inspirational leader who has joined Australia’s Folau Fainga’a and South Africa’s Bongi Mbonambi in making tries off lineout drives their niche in their respective countries, Dixon has caught the eye regularly throughout 2020.
Whether it’s been for the Highlanders in Super Rugby, the North Island in the North vs South derby or Hawke’s Bay in the Mitre 10 Cup, the 32-year-old hooker has been instrumental for all three teams, leading the Magpies to a Championship title last week.
Named in the 2021 Highlanders squad on Thursday, Dixon will captain the Maori on Saturday, and it’s hard to envisage him not having a similar kind of influence on the final outcome in his last match of the year.
Folau Fakatava (Moana Pasifika)
If Dixon was the talismanic skipper who guided Hawke’s Bay to their third Mitre 10 Cup Championship title since 2011, then Folau Fakatava was the star of the show from halfback.
An extremely talented ball-runner capable of blowing the game open with a sniping run, big things have long been projected about the Tongan-born 20-year-old since he was a schoolboy star at Hastings Boys’ High School.
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It seems as though this was a coming-of-age campaign for Fakatava, though, as he was a vital part of the Magpies’ success this year, and looms as a significant threat in Super Rugby as he backs up Aaron Smith at the Highlanders for a third season.
Before then, though, he has one more chance to show what he’s made of in 2020, forming what could be a lethal Moana Pasifika halves partnership with fellow Highlander and one-cap All Blacks first-five Josh Ioane.
Alamanda Motunga (Moana Pasifika)
An unexpected star of the Mitre 10 Cup, you could excuse Alamanda Motunga for feeling aggrieved at missing out on a Super Rugby contract following his impressive showings for Counties Manukau.
The one-test Manu Samoa flanker was arguably the best player from an underwhelming Steelers cohort, scoring five tries – including a hat-trick against Manawatu – while also leading the way defensively.
Even without a fully professional deal next year, the 27-year-old gets to show what he’s made of while starting at No. 7 for Moana Pasifika, and one would hope recruiters from the Top League and Major League Rugby will be watching on with interest.
Salesi Rayasi (Moana Pasifika)
Speaking of stars from the Mitre 10 Cup, Auckland flyer Salesi Rayasi was the brightest of them all as he tore up the competition en route to a runners-up finish in the Premiership division.
With 14 tries from just nine matches, the stats speak for themselves in illustrating just how dangerous the 24-year-old outside back, who stands at an imposing 1.93m and 105kg, can be.
Of Fijian and Samoan heritage, Rayasi will get one more chance to showcase his electrifying abilities from Moana Pasifika’s left wing before linking back up with the Hurricanes next year.
Kaleb Trask (Maori All Blacks)
A former Jock Hobbs Memorial National U19 Tournament MVP, Bay of Plenty playmaker Kaleb Trask has continued to grow and prosper in the professional ranks.
Since coming onto the scene with the Steamers two years ago, the 21-year-old has gone from strength-to-strength, earning himself a Super Rugby debut this year while also emerging as an important figure for Bay of Plenty.
Expected to challenge Bryn Gatland for the starting first-five role at the Chiefs in 2021, it will be from fullback where Trask struts his stuff for the Maori All Blacks to cap off what’s been a good year for the youngster.
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