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'We can compete': Maori All Blacks boss calls for more matches against tier one teams

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Maori All Blacks head coach Clayton McMillan wants his side to play more matches against tier one nations in the wake of their two-match series against Ireland.


The Maori All Blacks closed out their brief campaign with a first-ever loss to Ireland on Tuesday, falling short 30-24 at Sky Stadium in Wellington.

That result followed their 32-17 win over the Irish in Hamilton a fortnight ago, with McMillan disappointed in his side’s inability to maintain their 134-year unbeaten run over the men from the Emerald Isle.

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Sam Cane speaks to media from All Blacks training in Wellington
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Sam Cane speaks to media from All Blacks training in Wellington

More than that, McMillan was concerned about how the defeat in the Kiwi capital might impact future fixtures against elite rugby nations for the Maori All Blacks.

“We’re disappointed, because we wanted to win two games and thought that would have been great for Maori rugby,” McMillan said post-match.

“We’re continually fighting for our space in a congested international window.

“The opportunity to play tier one nations doesn’t come around very often, so we thought we saw this as a great opportunity to showcase Maori rugby.


“Two wins would have probably applied a little bit of pressure on people that makes decisions to keep finding us more games like this.

“Hopefully you’ve seen enough out of our young but talented squad to keep pushing for that tier one nation opposition.”

Without any matches for the remainder of the year, the Maori All Blacks will have to wait until next season at the earliest to take to the field again.

As such, the wait continues for more matches against tier one nations, which has become a rarity for the Maori All Blacks.


Prior to the recent series against Ireland, the last elite test team the Maori All Blacks faced was the British & Irish Lions in 2017, which came seven years after their beat England and Ireland in their second and third-most recent encounters with tier one sides.


All up, the Maori All Blacks have played only 14 of their 52 matches against tier one test teams (which includes the Lions and All Blacks) since the dawn of the professional era.

By contrast, the Maori All Blacks have played 27 of their 68 collective matches against Fiji (who they have faced 31 times alone), Samoa, Tonga, the USA and Canada over that same time span.

Having played nearly twice as many games against those five countries than the entire band of tier one nations since 1996, McMillan is eager for that to change moving forward.

In order for that change to occur, though, McMillan said the Maori All Blacks must prove their worth by beating, or at least competing with, top-level teams like Ireland when given the chance.

“We just need to play our part,” McMillan said.

“If we’d have got [demolished] over two games, it would’ve been easy to say your record is over there. I think we’ve showcased over two games that we can compete against the best teams.

“I don’t really buy into the rhetoric that we played a team full of young guys. They’ve got a green jersey, they’re called Ireland, they fought the Maori with the expectation to grow their squad.

“We’ve got a young squad, too. 10 debutants, most of them under the age of about 21, so this team will get better.”


In saying that, McMillan was open to the Maori All Blacks returning to the Pacific Nations Cup for the first time since 2008, a prospect he indicated that his side turned down in favour of facing Ireland in New Zealand.

“I don’t know if I’m 100 percent correct, but I believe we may have had an opportunity to be involved in [the Pacific Nations Cup], but the opportunity to play Ireland at home in front of our own people this year was more compelling, from my point-of-view anyway,” he said.

“I didn’t help in that decision, if there was one to be made, but moving forward, it looks like a good competition, it looks like it could grow legs.

“A lot of those teams with the eligibility rules kicking in, there are some really good players starting to show up in those teams that have played for the All Blacks or Australia and other teams, so it’s something that could be chucked on the table.”

When asked about the challenge the Maori All Blacks posed throughout their two-match series, Ireland boss Andy Farrell was full of praise for McMillan’s “unbelievably dangerous” side, whose skillset he described as “tremendous”.

“We certainly feel that this is certainly not a tier two, tier three type of game for us,” Farrell said.

“With the side that obviously we were putting out, a newish side that’s learning together and trying to grow the squad, we’ve said all along that this is like five test matches for us.

“There’s no doubt about that. The lads don’t get a test cap for playing against the Maori All Blacks, but it’s certainly a test match as far as we was prepared.”


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