'It's got success written all over it': Calls grow for rugby's 'State of Origin-style' clash to be made an annual event
As anticipation grows for the maiden clash between Moana Pasifika and the Maori All Blacks next week, players and pundits have called for the one-off match to become an annual fixture on the New Zealand Rugby [NZR] calendar.
The first-ever Moana Pasifika squad was unveiled for next Saturday’s match against the Maori All Blacks by head coach Tana Umaga on Tuesday, with the 26-man side boasting a plethora of talent across the board.
One-cap All Blacks first-five Josh Ioane headlines the squad which also features Samoan internationals Michael Alaalatoa, Alamanda Motunga, Jordan Lay and Dwayne Polataivao, Tongan representatives Nasi Manu, Fetuli Paea and Zane Kapeli, as well as Flying Fijians star Asaeli Tikoroituma.
A host of standouts from New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup, such as Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Folau Fakatava, Leicester Fainga’anuku and All Blacks Sevens duo Salesi Rayasi and Etene Nanai-Seturo, have also been included.
While those named in the squad will only be involved for this one-off encounter, excitement is brimming within New Zealand and Pacific rugby circles over the future of Moana Pasifika, with the team set to join Super Rugby in 2022.
Despite the franchise’s expected involvement in the new-look competition featuring the fives sides each from New Zealand and Australia, as well as a Fijian team, there remains an eagerness for Moana Pasifika to face the Maori All Blacks on a yearly basis.
Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, host Ross Karl proposed the concept to panellists James Parsons and Bryn Hall.
“It’s got success written all over it. A State of Origin-style, maybe not a three-game [series], but once a year we have this game, because that game is so appealing. It’s a cracker.”
Hall, a five-cap Maori All Black who could be named in Clayton McMillan’s squad for the upcoming match later on Tuesday, agreed with Karl’s sentiments, highlighting the need for NZR to give back to the Pacific community.
The *first ever* Moana Pasifika has been namedhttps://t.co/DF7lk4t8Lw
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 23, 2020
“Moana Pasifika have given so much to New Zealand Rugby, not just at that level, but at Super Rugby, Mitre 10 Cup and even at international level,” Hall said.
“The Pacific Islanders have given so much to New Zealand Rugby, so to make it a regular fixture where they can be rewarded in New Zealand and play in New Zealand, I think it’s going to be great.”
Parsons went a step further, floating the possibility of a ‘mini Tri-Nations’ series between the Maori All Blacks, Moana Pasifika and the New Zealand Barbarians.
A former member of the New Zealand Barbarians side, the two-test All Black was confident New Zealand’s talent pool is deep enough to make a three-team series an entertaining spectacle.
“We played the Maori from the New Zealand Baabaas point of view a few years ago and that meant a lot to us to represent the New Zealand Baabaas,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“We hear a lot about the world [UK] Baabaas, but you could add a third team into the mix and have the New Zealand Baabaas and have a little mini Tri-Nations.
“I think we’ve got enough talent to create a third team that would really have something worthwhile watching going into next year and beyond.”
How a ‘mini Tri-Nations’ tournament would squeeze into the NZR landscape remains to be seen, especially with hopes of the historic North vs South match becoming an annual event, or even a yearly three-match series, already proving difficult to fulfil.
Moana Pasifika’s imminent transition from a representative, exhibition team to a professional Super Rugby franchise adds complexity to the scenario, but the July test window might act as a suitable playing period should such a series come to fruition.
Karl suggested matches between Moana Pasifika and the Maori All Blacks could take place at the end of each Mitre 10 Cup season, as is the case this year.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 23, 2020
He also added the contest may give the All Blacks selectors extra food for thought.
“It’s a nice stepping stone, isn’t it? You can get a slightly higher level than Mitre 10 Cup, a bit of action at the end of the Cup every year for some players who really would benefit from that, looking ahead to the following seasons.
Hall doubled down on those comments, noting that a match with that much talent would almost be of test match quality.
“Because we’ve just got such good stocks in this country, that one test – pretty much a test match, if you think about it – it’s an opportunity for the All Blacks selectors to see at that kind of level, ‘Oh, actually he played really well up to that level’,” he said.
“So, again, this is a great opportunity for a lot of men who will want to stamp their mark coming to higher honours.”
The Moana Pasifika match against the Maori All Blacks is set to take place on December 5 at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton, with kick-off scheduled for 7:05pm NZT.
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