PREVIEW: Māori All Blacks v Ireland (Hamilton)

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This will be just the second official meeting between the two sides after the Maori edged the Irish 31-28 in Rotorua back in 2010 as part of their centenary season. That was a stirring occasion.

There was a significant match back in 1888 when the New Zealand Natives beat Ireland 13-4 in Dublin, an historic first international by a New Zealand side and the first time Ireland had played any international that was not England, Scotland or Wales.

The Māori last played in Hamilton in 2020, defeating Moana Pasifika 28-21 at this venue.

A clutch of Māori All Blacks are back from the 2021 side that beat Manu Samoa 35-10 and 38-21 in meritorious fashion. It will be poignant for many as they tragically lost teammate Sean Wainui last year.

As ever, there are plenty of debutants in the Māori All Blacks, four in the starting XV and six from the bench. One of those debutants is senior All Black TJ Perenara, who will wear the No 21 as co-captain and will come on for Brad Weber, who leads the side on his home Super Rugby ground.

Blindside flanker Cameron Suafoa will be jumping out of his skin after being used sparingly by the Blues in Super Rugby Pacific. He is a combative ball-winner. Cullen Grace, also on debut, is one of the form No 8s in the country and is fresh off a leading role in the Super Rugby Pacific final.

Former All Blacks Tyrel Lomax and Josh Ioane will have much to prove while honouring their heritage. Ollie Norris and Kurt Eklund are in-form front-rowers.

Reserve tighthead Jermaine Ainsley will represent his Te Rārawa and Te Arawa heritage just four years after his last Test match for the Wallabies.

The Sullivan brothers may get the chance to share their debuts for this team together on the park – Zarn starts at fullback, while Bailyn, who knows this venue well from his time with Waikato and previously the Chiefs, is the outside back cover.

Ireland has had 2-3 weeks to rest bodies after a long domestic season. No team contested the United Rugby Championship final, which was a bonus for head coach Andy Farrell.

While the Irish will have one eye on the first Test against the All Blacks in Auckland on Saturday, this match represents a prime chance for some to press claims for this series and looking to build depth ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023. They have trained mainly at North Harbour Stadium and will bus down to Hamilton on match-day.

They have already had a visit from former Maori All Blacks midfielder Rua Tipoki, who dropped in on camp to catch up with his old Munster mates and give an insight into how passionate and physical his old team will be.

Bundee Aki, from Connacht by way of Patumahoe, will captain Ireland, accorded the honour on the ground where he won a Super Rugby title with the Chiefs in 2013. Centre Jamie Hume is raw in experience but big on form after a fine season with Ulster, while right wing Jordan Larmour has 30 caps to his credit. Left wing Keith Earls was a Lions tourist as far back as 2009 and will be tasked with keeping Shaun Stevenson quiet.

In the pack, watch for uncapped lock Joe McCarthy, who only cracked the Leinster squad earlier this year but has risen swiftly up the ranks.

Should Ireland struggle, there is much insurance on the bench in the form of Cian Healy, Jack Conan, Connor Murray and Dargaville-born No 10 Joey Carbery. Some of these players could well feature in the Test match this weekend. Reserve hooker Niall Scannell only flew into the country on Tuesday morning.

Like the All Blacks, Ireland too has had some issues with Covid-19. Wing Mack Hansen was ruled out of this match due to the virus.

This is the Māori All Blacks’ 126th international match since their establishment in 1910.

Chemist Warehouse New Zealand presents Māori All Blacks v Ireland with the match to kick off at 7.05pm on Wednesday from Hamilton’s FMG Stadium Waikato. It will be televised live on SKY Sport. Te Reo Māori commentary will also be available across the two matches. The commentators for the Hamilton match will be Te Aorere Pewhairangi and Julian Wilcox. The Te Reo Māori commentary will be on Sky Sport 9 or push the yellow button on Sky Sport 1. 

Māori All Blacks: 1. Ollie Norris 2. Kurt Eklund 3. Tyrel Lomax 4. Josh Dickson 5. Isaia Walker-Leawere 6. Cameron Suafoa 7. Billy Harmon 8. Cullen Grace 9. Brad Weber (co-c) 10. Josh Ioane 11. Connor Garden-Bachop 12. Rameka Poihipi 13. Billy Proctor 14. Shaun Stevenson 15. Zarn Sullivan

Reserves: 16. Tyrone Thompson 17. Tamaiti Williams 18. Jermaine Ainsley 19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit 20. TK Howden 21. TJ Perenara (co-c) 22. Ruben Love 23. Bailyn Sullivan


Ireland: 1. Jeremy Loughman 2. Dave Heffernan 3. Tom O’Toole 4. Kieran Treadwell 5. Joe McCarthy 6. Cian Prendergast 7. Nick Timoney 8. Gavin Coombes 9. Craig Casey 10. Ciaran Frawley 11. Keith Earls 12. Bundee Aki (c) 13. Jamie Hume 14. Jordan Larmour 15. Jimmy O’Brien

Reserves: 16. Niall Scannell 17. Cian Healy 18. Finlay Bealham 19. Ryan Baird 20. Jack Conan 21. Conor Murray 22. Joey Carbery 23. Michael Lowry


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Campbell Burnes

Campbell Burnes has written on rugby since 2000 for a wide variety of publications, both in print and online, whilst also contributing to television and radio shows. His major gigs have seen him at Rugby News magazine (2005-12), in which he covered 50 Test matches, and the New Zealand Herald (2014-17). Burnes is one of the few in rugby media to have played international rugby, having appeared for Manu Samoa in 1995 and 2000 (seven games) as a No 10. He is now the editor of Rugby News magazine and co-editor of the Rugby Almanack.


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