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'We've got some ideas': How Maori All Blacks plan to maintain unbeaten run against Ireland

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

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Ireland may be among the world’s best teams, but the Maori All Blacks are brimming with confidence to keep their long-standing unbeaten run against the Irish alive over the coming weeks.

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That’s the verdict delivered by Maori All Blacks head coach Clayton McMillan, who is optimistic about his side’s chances when they host Ireland in Hamilton on June 29 and in Wellington on July 12.

Those matches come as part of Ireland’s five-match tour of New Zealand, during which time they will also square off against the All Blacks across three tests in Auckland, Dunedin and Wellington.

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Much of the spotlight will be thrust on how the Irish fare against the All Blacks in what promises to be a blockbuster series as the newfound, yet storied, rivalry between the two nations opens a new chapter next month.

However, the Maori All Blacks are hopeful of luring some of that attention their way with some wins of their own over Andy Farrell’s men.

Doing just that at FMG Stadium Waikato and Sky Stadium would ensure that the Maori All Blacks keep their 134-year unbeaten streak against the men from the Emerald Isle intact for the foreseeable future.

Having won their only two encounters with the European heavyweights in 1888 and 2010, McMillan took the first step to maintain that winning run by unveiling a 28-man squad to take on Ireland on Wednesday.

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Among those in the side include discarded All Blacks trio TJ Perenara, Brad Weber and Tyrel Lomax, with Perenara one of 11 players primed to make their first appearances for the Maori All Blacks.

McMillan said in the wake of his squad announcement that the additions of Perenara and Weber are particularly beneficial due to the experience the pair wield as veteran All Blacks halfbacks.

It’s for that reason that both players were considered the highest-profile omissions from the national squad when it was revealed on Monday.

While McMillan noted that Perenara and Weber were “naturally disappointed” to have missed out on the All Blacks, he said they were “highly-motivated” to use the Maori All Blacks as a springboard to force their way back into Ian Foster’s plans.

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“I think at the highest levels of the game, experience counts for a lot, and those two have got plenty,” McMillan said.

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“They’ll naturally be disappointed to have missed selection for the All Blacks, but this also represents an opportunity for them to get out and still play Ireland and showcase to everybody that they’ve still got the tools to operate at the highest level.”

Both players will be vital in any success the Maori All Blacks enjoy against Ireland, especially given the unavailability of numerous senior figures from previous versions of the squad.

Last year’s tragic death of highly-regarded utility back Sean Wainui has been coupled with the offshore departures of key men such as Ash Dixon, Otere Black and Whetukamokamo Douglas, all of whom McMillan pinpointed as major losses.

Therefore, the contributions of Perenara and Weber as a one-two halfback combination will be crucial if the Maori All Blacks are to come up trumps against the Six Nations juggernauts.

“I’d rate Ash up there as one of the best leaders I’ve been able to work with, and the other guys [Black and Douglas] were very similar,” McMillan said.

“We’ll feel their loss, but that is mitigated somewhat by the injection of some really experienced halfbacks.”

In saying that, McMillan acknowledged that Perenara and Weber, as well as the rest of his squad, must play to their full potential if they are to topple an Irish squad that he expects to pose a variety of threats all across the park.

“We watch a lot of Northern Hemisphere rugby, and in particular Ireland, because everyone’s looking for trends in the game, and the upward trend of the Irish over the last five or six years makes you stand up and take notice,” he said.

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“They’re a team that are very structured, they strangle you with their set piece, they want to play rugby in their defensive end, and they’ve got some skilful players who will be able to punish you if they can spend long periods of time there.

“We’ll need to be at our best to beat them, but we’ll certainly have confidence that we can squeeze every ounce of ability out of the guys that have been selected, and we look forward to having a good shake here at Waikato Stadium.”

Just what his side’s best looks like remains to be seen, but McMillan offered a little bit of insight into how the Maori All Blacks might play in an attempt to keep their undefeated record against Ireland unblemished.

“Obviously we’ve got some ideas in mind, but normally we want to stay true to our Maori identity,” he said.

“That’s served the team so well in the past, and that’s playing with a bit of aggression, but also flair and enterprise, a little bit of innovation, so we certainly won’t be looking to take them on at their own game.

“The Maori team have had a great history of getting results against everybody’s expectations, so that’s how we’ll prepare, but we’ll respect the fact that we’re playing one of the best teams in the world.

“Our prep will have to be genuine, and our players will have to be at their best to do that, but we’ve selected what we think is a great squad and one capable of doing that if we play to our potential.”

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