At the same time the All Blacks were breaking records on the end of year tour, another All Blacks team were touring the US and Canada. The Maori All Blacks.
Unlike the ‘real’ All Blacks though, no one seemed to give a damn about the Maori All Blacks tour and I was disappointed to see a lot of people posting their very racist thoughts about the team on social media. Most were along the lines of ‘what makes the Maori so special they get their own team’, ‘they are fake All Blacks’, ‘it’s all the guys who suck too much to make the All Blacks’, ‘what right do they have to have to be referred to as All Blacks’, ‘there is no ‘white All Blacks’ team, why should their be a Maori team’. The list goes on and is really a tribute to the small minded racism that is very much present in our country, a country which supposedly prides itself on being multicultural.
With that little rant out of the way, the right thing for me to do is probably to give you a short history of the team now known as the Maori All Blacks, and to recap their tour of Canada and the USA. So without further ado…
The teams first ever match was in 1888 and playing as the ‘New Zealand Natives’ the team beat Hawke’s Bay 5-0. Their first international match was also in 1888 where the team took on Ireland (in Dublin) and won 13-4, before going on to lose against Wales (5-0) and England (7-0). The Maori All Blacks’ main opponents since those early games have been Australia, South Africa, France, England, Ireland, Canada, USA, Tonga, Fiji & Samoa, as well as being part of the Churchill Cup (2004, 2006, 2007) and the Pacific Nations Cup (2008). The team has also been involved in eight British and Irish Lions matches, winning one and losing seven. In the 125 years they have been playing, the Maori All Blacks have earnt a 60% win rate against major nations (not counting provincial teams they have played) and have gone undefeated against Argentina, France, Ireland, Japan, Samoa, Scotland, Canada, USA & Spain.
Many well known All Blacks of recent times have worn the Maori All Blacks jersey, including Christian Cullen, Eric Rush, Zinzan Brooke, Rico Gear, Carl Hayman, Leon McDonald, Luke McAlister, Caleb Ralph, Taine Randell, Bruce Reihana, Carlos Spencer, Piri Weepu, Norm Hewitt, Hosea Gear and Norm Berryman. As you can see, the Maori All Blacks team never lacks talent and this year’s team was no exception. Six squad members have caps for the All Blacks – Hika Elliot, Corey Flynn, Ben Afeaki, Jarrad Hoeata, Piri Weepu and Zac Guildford, and there are many players in the squad who have been labelled as All Blacks of the future (including Ihaia West, Jamison Gibson-Park and Liam Squire).
In response to people wondering exactly why the team formerly known as the New Zealand Maori is now known as the Maori All Blacks, I give you Steve Tew’s (NZRU CEO) words at the time of the announcement (also talking about why the NZ Sevens team being renamed the All Blacks Sevens)…
“Both teams already wear a black jersey and the identical silver fern; this name change simply catches up with how many people already see these teams as being linked to the All Blacks… significantly, this name change will expand the commercial and partnership opportunities available to us so providing much needed funds for all layers of the game in New Zealand.”
It’s not like the Maori All Blacks went out there one day and decided ‘Hey, let’s steal the All Blacks name for our own team’.
And just how did the Maori All Blacks do on their tour of Canada and the USA?
They had a very convincing 40-15 win over Canada in what were some very cold conditions… I believe it was 6 degrees when they played. The Maori All Blacks scored six tries to Canada’s two, with two of the Maori All Blacks running in two tries each (Jamison Gibson-Park & Zac Guildford). The match against the USA Eagles was closer, but the Maori All Blacks managed to win 29-19, scoring four tries to two. With 10 minutes to go the score was 22-19 to the Maori All Blacks and it looked entirely possible that the USA Eagles would snatch a last minute try and win the game, instead it was the Maori All Blacks with a last minute try, ensuring them the win.
I would like to say the games were widely publicised over here but that was not the case. There is always a lot of hype surrounding the All Blacks before a game with press conference after press conference… but when it came to the Maori All Blacks I had to search – and search hard – to just find the team list. Considering the NZRU talk about the Maori All Blacks being a ‘special’ team worthy of respect, perhaps they could start respecting the team themselves and give them the same special treatment they give to the All Blacks.