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'It was a lot nicer sitting up in the stands': McMillan not too hung up on Maori All Blacks' missed opportunities

By Tom Vinicombe

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The Maori All Blacks may have managed a 25-point win over Manu Samoa on Saturday night, but there were plenty of opportunities left on the park and the team now have one more week together before what’s shaping up as their final game of the season.

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Coach Clayton McMillan will have a few goals for the coming week, including ironing out the many mistakes that crept into his side’s performance in their 35-10 win.

“There were elements that were good,” McMillan said after the match. “I thought our set-piece in the second half started to wear Samoa down.

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“There were certainly plenty of opportunities but I guess what Ash was alluding to, we didn’t really nail them. We didn’t hold onto the ball long enough to create enough pressure on Samoa.”

McMillan won’t be too hard on his men who assembled less than two weeks ago, however, suggesting there were always likely to be a few mistakes in the wet and windy weather of Wellington’s Sky Stadium.

“It was bloody tough conditions out there, [Dixon’s] being probably a bit hard on himself and it was a lot nicer sitting up in the stands and there were some cold boys out there.

“Our challenge will be to celebrate the fact we won tonight but review well and look to get better because we’ll need to. That’s the beauty of the same team in consecutive weeks, it now becomes a bit of a mission of who can find the biggest gains in the short period of time and then turn up next week.”

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Unlike coaching a Super Rugby franchise, test nation or even a touring side like the British and Irish Lions, McMillan has no time with the Maori All Blacks to build a cohesive team, with the squad only assembling for a handful of weeks every year. In 2020, the Maori All Blacks came together for just a solitary match, while they’ve just the two matches together this season.

As such, McMillan relied on some already-forged combinations for the opening game with Samoa, including an all-Canterbury loose forward trio and an all-Chiefs back three. That didn’t minimise errors altogether, however.

“I think right across the whole team we tried to have a few combinations out there that were going to serve us well throughout the game,” McMillan said. “There’s plenty of guys in the front row that played together for a long period of time. Second row, combinations like that right through the whole team. There was some good stuff out there but there’s plenty to work on.

“The intent at times was good but our accuracy wasn’t quite there … We weren’t all tough. We turned the ball over in contact a number of times. They were pretty good at slowing our ball down and we need to be a bit more brutal in and around the cleans to create a little bit of lightning-quick ball and if we’re able to achieve that next week, we did see opportunities a little wider but we didn’t do that tonight. It’s an area that we’re definitely going to have to get better at.”

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While Saturday’s match was played in front of an empty stadium due to emergency COVID protocols in Wellington, next weekend’s match is set to be played in front of a bumper crowd at Mount Smart Stadium – thanks in part to the fact that the All Black will be playing Tonga afterwards in the second game of what’s shaping as a thrilling double-header.

McMillan is expecting the two Island teams to have plenty of support in the stands.

“[Samoa’s] a proud nation, proud rugby team with some good quality players in there so they’ll be disappointed with elements of their game, I’m sure, but equally they’ll be happy that they were in the contest for a long way nad they’ll be just like us, they’ll be looking for the gains and come out next week in front of what I imagine will be a bumper crowd with a hell of a lot of support in their back yard. It’s going to be an interesting week and an interesting game next week.”

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'It was a lot nicer sitting up in the stands': McMillan not too hung up on Maori All Blacks' missed opportunities

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