Clayton McMillan has named an experienced side for the Maori All Blacks’ first game of the season, with fullback Fletcher Smith the only debutant named to start.
The other four new caps will have to wait to make their debuts from the bench, including hooker Nathan Harris, outside backs Alex Nankivell and Jordan Hyland and young Waikato prop Haereiti Hetet, who only just joined the squad this week.
Harris, who was a somewhat surprising omission from the All Blacks squad that was named last week, will have to try play his way back into national contention with limited game-time. Fellow All Black Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will have the chance to push his case from the starting 9 jersey.
“We have a proud tradition of playing the passionate and highly skilful Fijians. We have relished every one of our 29 encounters, and I know that ranked in the world top 10, Fiji will be playing with more than one eye on their Rugby World Cup campaign.
“We have named a strong side to reflect what we think is going to be a great contest.
“We know we will need the strike power of our reserves and it’s exciting to think we have the likes of Nathan Harris, Pari Pari Parkinson, Marcel Renata, Whetu Douglas, Alex Nankivell and Bryn Hall sitting on the bench.
“We expect the conditions will be hot, but we know that many of these Super Rugby players have played in Fiji before so that experience will be invaluable.
“We’re wanting the boys to be direct in contact, and deliberate in their game decisions, so having someone like Ash lead them will be critical.
“We’re very fortunate that many of these lads have played together in this team, and it’s very exciting that we will get an opportunity to do it all over again in Rotorua next week.”
Maori All Blacks: 15 Fletcher Smith, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Otere Black, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Mitch Karpik, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Isaia Walker-Leaware, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Ross Wright.
Reserves: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Haereiti Hetet, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Pari Pari Parkinson, 20 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Jordan Hyland.
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