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'That's part of the reason why some of us play': The big change coming for the Maori All Blacks next weekend

By Tom Vinicombe
The Maori All Blacks perform their haka. (Photo by John Cowpland/Photosport)

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While the All Blacks may have secured a 35-10 victory over Samoa on Saturday night, captain Ash Dixon wasn’t entirely happy with how his men performed in front of an empty stadium in Wellington.

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A change in alert levels in New Zealand’s capital in the lead-up to the match meant that fans weren’t able to attend the game, which led to a somewhat eerie atmosphere in Sky Stadium.

Despite scoring five tries on the night, the Maori All Blacks lacked continuity at times and were guilty of some a number of basic handling errors – though the wind and rain likely contributed to that.

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Speaking after the match, Dixon acknowledged that while his team had managed to string some good plays together, there were also plenty of improvement opportunities for the NZ composite side.

“When you can finish like that and with a score like that, you’re always pretty happy with it,” he said. “[There was] definitely a lot of intent and endeavour in a lot of things but I felt we missed a lot of detail tonight on a few things. Even though it was a short week, I expected a little bit more from us [but] still stoked we got our game to where it was today.”

Although the team first came together as a group just a week and a half before Saturday night’s match, Dixon wasn’t willing to let the little time the squad had spent together in camp as an excuse for the errors.

“I just think we’re better than that,” he said. “We know we get short turnarounds and we know we’ve got to deal with that … and a lot of our boys have played together for a couple of years now and that same crew and the combinations are pretty similar.

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“I guess I just expected a bit more from us in terms of some of our ball control and [carrying] into contact was a bit soft. Bit of that kind of stuff. I thought we could have been a lot better. That’s just personal pride I think, more than anything. I’m sure we’ll work a bit on it this week and get our detail sorted.”

Dixon also shut down any suggestions that the lack of a crowd played any part in the less than fluid gameplay – although he acknowledged it can be tough running out to an empty stadium.

“It is tough, to be honest. I love playing in front of a crowd and hearing noise. That energy you get when you’re warming up and hearing the booing or hearing the celebrations is second to none. I think that’s part of the reason why some of us play, to play in front of people and showcase footy in New Zealand.

“But we knew there wasn’t going to be a crowd from Tuesday, Wednesday onwards so we prepared accordingly and I don’t think that really changed the way we would have played tonight because we knew during the week. I just think we could have been a bit better.

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“It would have been great to have a crowd here so let’s hope in the weekend we can have one and vibe off them and get the boys peaking for it.”

Coach Clayton McMillan shared similar sentiments.

“Everybody’s disappointed that we couldn’t get a crowd here tonight but that’s the nature of COVID-19, isn’t it?” he said.

“We’ve all become well accustomed to the challenges it throws us and even though rugby at this level is very public and obviously the impact [of COVID] is easy to see when there are empty seats in the stand but everyone else in the community and other business and other jobs are affected just as much.

“So we’ve just got to deal with it and hope that we’re a little luckier next week and things don’t move up north and we can get a really crowd great along and celebrate Maori rugby but also Pacific Island rugby with those teams up there and also look forward to seeing the All Blacks play for the first time this year.”

The Maori All Blacks play Samoa at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland next Saturday at 4:30pm NZT with the All Blacks then facing off against Tonga at the same ground at 7:05pm.

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'That's part of the reason why some of us play': The big change coming for the Maori All Blacks next weekend

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