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'You can often get consumed with things that are out of your control': The philosophy of Maori All Blacks coach Clayton McMillan

By Tom Vinicombe

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While 2021 hasn’t been quite so disrupted by the coronavirus as the year prior, the global pandemic continues to throw spanners in the works for professional sport with the Maori All Blacks‘ game against Manu Samoa in Wellington this weekend now forced behind closed doors due to a positive case of the virus emerging in New Zealand’s capital.

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It’s particularly frustrating, given that Wellington is the only place in the country that’s hosting a professional rugby match this weekend – and it’s the first time the Maori All Blacks have played in the city since 1993, when the NZ representative side hosted the touring British and Irish Lions.

The match also marks the first encounter between Samoa and the Maori since 2008, adding to the significance of the clash.

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For Maori All Blacks head coach Clayton McMillan, COVID has simply become part and parcel of the world of professional sports, with the Chiefs also being significantly affected by the pandemic this year, having to play one home game without fans and having to relocate another to Sydney.

“Obviously it was unfortunate that COVID has reared its head again and we just happened to be in Wellington when a positive case has been identified down here but I think our whole country has developed an ability to sort of deal with these things and understand that you can only control what you can control,” McMillan said after naming his opening team of their campaign on Thursday afternoon.

“For us, it’s about maximising time that we have had – which has been limited. Obviously, our preparation has been compromised but we’re putting a lot more effort into our connection off the field and also doing plenty of homework on the footage that we managed to capture through our first couple of training.”

‘Controlling what you can control’ has been a mantra echoed by many professionals over the past 18 months – sometimes in reference to the pandemic, and sometimes in reference to whether or not they’re being selected for teams or the play is flowing their way.

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Given it’s a motto that they almost have to live their life by, are rugby players better prepared for the impacts of COVID?

“We live in a high-performance environment. You’re working hard to earn your spot every day and you can often get consumed with things that are out of your control like other people playing well or injuries, the weather – and the list goes on and on,” said McMillan.

“Well before COVID came along, I’ve always been an advocate for players putting most of their energy on the things they can control, a little bit of energy on the areas where they can have an influence and bugger all energy into the things that are out of their control.

“I just think COVID has really brought to the forefront that we have to be adaptable. We’re well aware that if we get things right, we can generally put things to bed pretty quickly and get on top of them and that’s what we’re encouraging our players to do this week.”

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One such thing outside of McMillan’s control is the unavailability of Maori halfback TJ Perenara, who’s returned to New Zealand after a season in Japan but is ineligible for selection until he’s played for Wellington in the upcoming NPC.

“We would have loved to have had him just like I’m sure the All Blacks would have loved to have had him but there’s obviously some contractual stuff that’s out of my control – so control the things I can control, select people that are available,” McMillan said.

As such, it’s Bryn Hall and Sam Nock who will handle the halfback duties this weekend – two men who’ve both represented the side multiple times in the past. Hall made his debut for the Maori All Blacks in 2017 and has played six games for the team while Nock played a solitary fixture in 2018.

Regardless of where McMillan and the Maori All Blacks will be focussing their attention over the coming days, playing the game behind closed doors is a disappointing turn of events for fans of both the Maori and Samoan teams alike.

McMillan is imploring fans to still get behind their teams, however, and tuning in to watch the game on TV, even if they can’t get to the clash in person.

“We won’t get the crowd that we anticipated, which is unfortunate for our families, whanau, supporters – but it won’t impact on our willingness to want to get out there and still play in the manner we want to for our people,” he said.

“I know that having lived in Wellington, there are proud Pacific Island and Maori communities down here and I’m sure that the game would have been well supported and was something for people to look forward to. We haven’t played each other in a long time and generally when you get two teams that like to be physical and also give the ball a bit of air, hopefully it would have been a great spectacle for the people that turned up but we’ll just encourage people to still tune in on TV and support from afar knowing that both teams will be able to feel that support.”

The game between the Maori All Blacks and Manu Samoa kicks off at 7:05pm NZT on Saturday evening.

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'You can often get consumed with things that are out of your control': The philosophy of Maori All Blacks coach Clayton McMillan

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