Culture and development priorities for Maori All Blacks

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James Mortimer     31 Oct 2013     Getty Images

First and foremost, it is about bring rugby to North America, and New Zealand Rugby’s partnership with AIG has made it possible to take a side that pays homage to the New Zealand Natives team and Maori culture on this important tour.

The Maori All Blacks also work directly with New Zealand Rugby’s high performance group, meaning that players selected are not just being honoured to wear the jersey, but are being given the chance to further their rugby and international development.

The side left for Canada on Monday, touching down this morning (NZT) ahead of the two matches, against Canada on November 3 before heading to Philadelphia to take on the United States on November 9.

Maori All Blacks Head coach Colin Cooper was excited about the two-match tour.

“We’ve got a real good group, and we’ve galvanised the team with our culture,” he said.

“It has been a bit messy with players coming in and out with finals, but we certainly used the culture and heritage side of things to set the tone.”

Cooper was aware that the special history of the team meant that the squad and coaches had responsibilities outside of representing a normal rugby outfit.

“Everywhere we go, people notice, that is the uniqueness of this team,” he said.

“We have to respond, and it is good for some of the players to experience.”

Canada and the United States were talking the matches up before the historic tour, not merely looking forward to the opportunity, but ensuring that the Maori All Blacks proud winning record remains intact.

“The goal is to win,” Cooper said quite simply.

“We have only three training runs to get things together, but the majority of the players are professionals, so they know what is expected.”

He said that the short time together only meant the coaches had to earn their coin.

“As coaches it is about getting them to have the best preparation in a short amount of time, and making sure they are in a good space,” he said.

Cooper dismissed suggestions that the Maori All Blacks would blow their opposition off the park, saying that playing in front of full stadiums with North American fans would be a different challenge.

“They are ranked in the top ten and they play in Rugby World Cups,” Cooper said.

“Both are sold out,

“There is some major support and they are enthusiastic about this game.”

For Cooper, a Maori All Black himself, he said leading the team overseas was part of why he coached.

“It has taken 20 years to get here,” he laughed.

“But I am pretty excited and excited for the players, I think we’ve got the team to put in a really good performance.

“When I was 19 I toured Wales as a Maori All Black, you look at the people that have helped you.

“I’ve been really blessed with the people surrounding me.”

The Maori All Blacks, such a special part of New Zealand Rugby culture, were having an ethereal effect on the squad.

“Just wearing the jersey is refreshing the team,” he said.

“We’re not just developing for Maori rugby, but for New Zealand rugby as a whole.”