The Maori All Blacks have named a strong side featuring two capped All Blacks and eight debutants to face off against Moana Pasifika in their historic clash at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton on Saturday.
Maori All Blacks head coach Clayton MacMillan has blended youth with experience in his match day squad, with hooker Ash Dixon selected as captain for the one-off match.
With 12 appearances for the Maori All Blacks, Dixon stands as the most experienced player in the side, but will be able to call on former 43-test All Blacks loose forward Liam Messam for leadership support in the forward pack.
The 36-year-old has been picked at No. 8 in what will be his seventh outing for the side, and will be joined by tighthead prop Marcel Renata as one of the most experienced players up front.
Adding to Dixon’s and Renata’s vast experience in the front row is Josh Hohneck, the 34-year-old Otago prop who will play in his first Maori All Blacks test since 2015 at loosehead prop after returning to New Zealand from a four-year stint in England.
In the second row, Southland lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit rounds out a memorable 2020 by making his Maori All Blacks debut in the same year he made his first appearance for the Highlanders and featured for the South Island in the North vs South clash.
He will be partnered with Isaia Walker-Leawere in the tight five, while Whetukamokamo Douglas and Billy Harmon have been named as the flankers.
Experienced halves Bryn Hall and Otere Black have been tasked with steering the team around the park from halfback and first-five, respectively.
The duo will act as a strong sounding board for uncapped midfield pair Quinn Tupaea and Billy Proctor, both of whom will make their Maori All Blacks debuts this weekend.
Out wide, seasoned Maori All Blacks speedsters Sean Wainui and Shaun Stevenson have been tasked with helping ease fullback Kaleb Trask into his first appearance for the team in the back three.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 2, 2020
There are a further four debutants on the bench, with hooker Kurt Eklund, new Crusaders prop Tamaiti Williams, lock Ethan Roots and midfielder Rameka Poihipi all primed for their first matches in the black jersey.
Pouri Rakete-Stones, Mitchell Karpik, ex-All Blacks halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Jonah Lowe are the other inclusions in the reserves.
Hurricanes loose forward Reed Prinsep, the only player from the initial 24-man squad not named in the team for this weekend’s match, has been ruled unavailable for selection.
In a statement released by the Maori All Blacks, head coach MacMillan said he was excited about what his side can offer against a side that will be taking to the field for the first time ever.
“It’s a really proud opportunity for those young men and their whanau and their iwi hapu to represent the Maori All Blacks,” he said.
“It represents a bit of a changing of the guard, we’ve had some real stalwarts that have moved overseas or are unavailable for this particular campaign and that opens up the door for some of those young guys to come in and show us what they’ve got and experience what it’s like to be in our environment.”
MacMillan added the experience provided by the likes of Messam and Hohneck will be invaluable for his young team.
“We felt the likes of Liam and Josh, guys that have been in the jersey historically, gone away and plied their trade overseas, have come back and added real value to their Mitre 10 Cup teams,” MacMillan said.
“It’s a no brainer for us, they are still good enough, but the peripheral stuff they bring, the mana and the knowledge and their ability to set really high standards for young people to follow has been instrumental in pulling these guys together.”
Kick-off for the clash between the Maori All Blacks and Moana Pasifika is scheduled for 7.05pm on Saturday [NZT].
Maori All Blacks side to face Moana Pasifika:
1. Josh Hohneck
2. Ash Dixon (c)
3. Marcel Renata
4. Isaia Walker-Leawere
5. Manaaki Selby-Rickit*
6. Whetukamokamo Douglas
7. Billy Harmon
8. Liam Messam
9. Bryn Hall
10. Otere Black
11. Sean Wainui
12. Quinn Tupaea*
13. Billy Proctor*
14. Shaun Stevenson
15. Kaleb Trask*
16. Kurt Eklund*
17. Pouri Rakete-Stones
18. Tamaiti Williams*
19. Ethan Roots*
20. Mitchell Karpik
21. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi
22. Rameka Poihipi*
23. Jonah Lowe
* – denotes new cap
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