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Six ‘fully deserving’ players to debut for Maori All Blacks against Japan XV

By Finn Morton
Cole Forbes of the Blues runs for a try during the Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Highlanders played at Eden Park in Auckland on May 18, 2024. (Photo by MICHAEL BRADLEY / AFP) (Photo by MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP via Getty Images)

Crusaders first five-eighth Rivez Reihana and Blues fullback Cole Forbes are among the six players in line to debut for the Maori All Blacks on Saturday evening [NZST] in the first of a two game series against a Japan XV.


Laghlan McWhannell and Daniel Rona join the aforementioned 10-15 duo in the starting side, while utility forward Max Hicks and outside back Tana Tuhakaraina will come off the bench at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium.

The selection of Tuhakaraina in the No. 23 jumper might be the most interesting pick of the week with head coach Ross Filipo rewarding the potential debutant for strong form in New Zealand’s National Provincial Championship.

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Tuhakaraina is from the Matamata region and trained with the Hamilton-based Chiefs as a replacement player but didn’t take the field. But coach Filipo has worked with the outside back with Waikato which has led to this selection.

“They are all fully deserving of their selections. I’m really excited for them and their whanau, it’s going to be a massive occasion whether they’ve travelled to watch or are watching at home,” head coach Ross Filipo said in a statement.

“To cap [six] debutants in one game is awesome for the team’s growth and I know they will all make a great contribution.


“We are expecting a high tempo match and we know they have had plenty of preparation time so we will have to be at our best from the very beginning. We are looking forward to the challenge and the team is ready to go.”

All Black Joe Moody will pack down in the front along with Kurt Eklund and Marcel Renata. Debutant McWhannell starts at tighthead lock along with the Hurricanes’ Isaia Walker-Leawere in the middle row.

Blues enforcer Cameron Suafoa will line up at blindside flanker while the Highlanders’ departing backrower Billy Harmon will take his place at openside. The Crusaders’ Cullen Grace has been named as the No. 8 in the run-on side.


Debutant Reihana joins Sam Nock in the halves, while Daniel Rona joins  familiar face in the midfield with Chiefs teammate Quinn Tupaea also named in the midfield.


As for the outside backs, Bailyn Sullivan will combine with fellow-winger Josh Moorby and No. 15 Cole Forbes.

This match will kick-off at 10:00 pm NZST on Saturday.

Maori All Blacks to take on Japan XV

  1. Joe Moody (Ngai Tahu)
  2. Kurt Eklund (Ngati Kahu)
  3. Marcel Renata (Ngati Whanaunga, Ngai Takoto)
  4. Isaia Walker-Leawere (Ngati Porou)
  5. Laghlan McWhannell* (Ngati Kahungunu)
  6. Cameron Suafoa (Ngapuhi)
  7. Billy Harmon (Ngai Tahu)
  8. Cullen Grace (Ngati Whakaue)
  9. Sam Nock (Ngapuhi)
  10. Rivez Reihana* (Ngai Tahu, Ghati Hine, Ngapuhi, Ngati Tuwharetoa)
  11. Bailyn Sullivan (Ngati Kahungunu)
  12. Quinn Tupaea (Ngaati Tiipa, Ngaati Amaru, Waikato)
  13. Daniel Rona* (Te Atiawa)
  14. Josh Moorby (Ngati Manipoto)
  15. Cole Forbes* (Ngati Awa)


  1. Tyrone Thompson (Ngati Rangiwewehi, Ngai Tamanuhiri)
  2. Ollie Norris (Ngapuhi)
  3. Pouri Rakete-Stones (Ngapuhi)
  4. Max Hicks* (Ngati Ranginui)
  5. Te Kamaka Howden (Tuhoe)
  6. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Ngati Rangitihi, Ngati Pikiao, Tuhourangi, Ngati Whakaue, Ngati Awa)
  7. Rameka Poihipi (Ngati Whakaue)
  8. Tana Tuhakaraina* (Ngati Haua)

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Jmann 21 days ago

They will anihilate Japan

Scott 22 days ago

That Maori lineup would win a lot of Super Rugby matches.

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finn 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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