Maori All Blacks may settle halfback debate

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Lynn McConnell     23 Oct 2017     Getty Images

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the reason Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who is to take up a northern hemisphere contract in France at the end of the season, was selected for their tour was because there was no obvious third choice in the position.
Finding a back-up for Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara was one of the issues to be resolved before the 2018 season.

Maori All Blacks coach Clayton McMillan, in choosing his first side, has opted for Hawke's Bay's Brad Weber, Taranaki's Te Toiroa Tahuiorangi and Otago's Jonathan Ruru for the tour.

Weber has played one Test for the All Blacks but a broken leg suffered during the Brisbane 10s this year kept him out of rugby until the Mitre 10 Cup campaign this year.

Tahuiorangi has been Perenara's understudy with the Hurricanes, although he will play for the Chiefs next year.

"Halfback is probably one position where there is a lot of depth throughout the country and a lot of them happen to be Maori so there are some good players who have missed out on selection," he said.

But the players chosen for the side had be due, in part, to discussions his selection group had had with the All Blacks selectors.

McMillan said it was a proud moment to announce the selection of his first Maori All Blacks side and he was looking forward to contributing to the enhancement of the jersey.

He praised the work of his predecessor Colin Cooper for the way he had left the side and while there were 10 new caps in the side, McMillan said he would be leaning on the knowledge and experience of many of the team's leadership group that had been established during Cooper's time.

He said from his observation the Maoris in their last game, against the British & Irish Lions, had lacked some size and physicality and he had been mindful of that in selecting the squad.

Newcomers like props Ross Wright from Northland and Tasman's Tyrell Lomax and locks Jackson Hemopo from Manawatu and Keepa Mewett from Bay of Plenty had been brought in with addressing that issue from the outset, he said.

McMillan said his rugby philosophy was based around the adage, 'the more you learn the less you know' and he liked his players to reflect that both in rugby and in life.

"The learning never stops and this is a great opportunity not only for myself but for every individual but the new players in particular to go away and learn a lot about themselves, learn a lot about the Maori environment and learn a lot about themselves as rugby players," he said.

It's a busy time for him this week ahead of the tour. Players start assembling on Thursday but in the meantime several are involved in the Mitre 10 Cup finals, as is McMillan as coach of the Bay of Plenty side which meets Wellington on Friday night in the Championship final.

The play Canada in Vancouver on November 3 and the French Barbarians in Bordeaux on November 10.