PREVIEW: Fiji v Maori All Blacks
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Maori All Blacks Head Coach Clayton McMillan has named a hugely experienced side to kick off their 2019 fixtures calendar.
Fullback Fletcher Smith is the only debutant named to start.
The other four new caps will notch up their first Maori matches from the bench –hooker Nathan Harris, outside backs Alex Nankivell and Jordan Hyland and young Waikato prop Haereiti Hetet who was called into the squad this week, and named in the team the day after his 22nd birthday.
Every player in the starting 15 is an experienced Super Rugby player and the calibre of the bench sets up a mouth-watering battle against the world’s ninth-ranked team Fiji.
“We have a proud tradition of playing the passionate and highly skilful Fijians. We have relished every one of our 29 encounters, and I know that ranked in the world top 10, Fiji will be playing with more than one eye on their Rugby World Cup campaign.
“We have named a strong side to reflect what we think is going to be a great contest.
“We know we will need the strike power of our reserves and it’s exciting to think we have the likes of Nathan Harris, Pari Pari Parkinson, Marcel Renata, Whetu Douglas, Alex Nankivell and Bryn Hall sitting on the bench.
“We expect the conditions will be hot, but we know that many of these Super Rugby players have played in Fiji before so that experience will be invaluable.
“We’re wanting the boys to be direct in contact, and deliberate in their game decisions, so having someone like Ash lead them will be critical.
“We’re very fortunate that many of these lads have played together in this team, and it’s very exciting that we will get an opportunity to do it all over again in Rotorua next week.”
The Maori All Blacks have played Fiji 29 times with the Maori recording 20 wins, Fiji seven wins and two draws.
The Maori team are unbeaten against Fiji since 1957 including their last encounter in Suva four years ago. That day the Maori All Blacks sneaked ahead 27-26 to break Fijian hearts.
Fiji Rugby Head Coach John McKee has also named a formidable team.
London Irish stars Albert Tuisue and Alivereti Veitokani have been given the nod for to start ahead of some more senior players in the squad, for this opening clash.
In-form hooker Sam Matavesi leads the front row with props Peni Ravai and Manasa Saulo.
Skipper Dominiko Waqaniburotu takes charge of an exciting forward pack consisting of Tuisue, Leone Nakarawa, Viliame Mata and Semi Kunatani.
“There are a lot of talented players right across the park in the team,”
“The important thing for these players is to find their combinations quickly and work within our systems in both attack and defence” says McKee.
“Adding to the experience of skipper Dominiko Waqaniburotu in the back row are Viliame Mata, who is really developing as a world-class number eight and Semi Kunatani, who although not the typical backrow player will add more firepower in the team,” McKee said.
Hear from your hero, Fiji Airways Flying Fijians full-back Alivereti Veitokani who is read to give his best shot on his first appearance at home in White Jersey. #itsfijistime pic.twitter.com/ALzNZAA6Vp
— Fiji Rugby Union (@fijirugby) July 11, 2019
The new midfield pair of Lepani Botia and Waisea Nayacalevu will be put to the test this weekend while Alivereti Veitokani will make his start at fullback with Eroni Sau and Josua Tuisova on the wings.
“It’s good to see Waisea Nayacalevu back in the Flying Fijians colours. He has been out of the group for a couple of campaigns now due to some untimely injuries over the past 2 European seasons” McKee said.
McKee added “He gets an opportunity in the team paired with Botia in the midfield. The up and coming Frank Lomani at half-back and experienced Ben Volavola at fly-half complete the backline.”
Fiji: 15 Alivereti Veitokani, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Lepani Botia, 11 Eroni Sau, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Semi Kunatani, 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Albert Tuisue, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Sam Matavesi, 1 Peni Ravai
Replacements: 16 Mesulame Dolokoto, 17 Eroni Mawi, 18 Kalivati Tawake, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Nemani Nagusa, 21 Henry Seniloli, 22 Sevanaia Galala, 23 Patrick Osbourne
Maori All Blacks: 15 Fletcher Smith, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Otere Black, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Mitch Karpik, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Ash Dixon (captain), 1 Ross Wright
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Haereiti Hetet, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Pari Pari Parkinson, 20 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Jordan Hyland
Date: Saturday, July 13
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Suva
Kick-off: 15.00 (03.00 GMT)
Referee: Damon Murphy (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Jordan Way (Australia)
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) July 11, 2019