Māori All Blacks v Ireland - Teams and Prediction
TEST SEASON: Ireland will still be shrugging off jet lag from their long-haul travel last week while the Māori All Blacks are back in harness for the first game since the two internationals against Manu Samoa in 2021.
The two teams take on each other this Wednesday in Hamilton.
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, a 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.
“The Māori All Blacks are a team I have enjoyed playing for, and every time I get in here I learn a lot,” Weber said ahaed of the match.
“The whole week is about fun, connection and enjoyment. This is the biggest team I’ve had to play against for the Māori, so I’m excited, especially playing at [home ground] Hamilton too.”
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Blindside flank 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-rows.
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 two to three 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.
@rugby365com: Ireland by five points
Māori All Blacks: 15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Billy Proctor, 12 Rameka Poihipi, 11 Connor Garden-Bachop, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Brad Weber (co-captain), 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Cameron Suafoa, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 Josh Dickson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Ollie Norris.
Replacements: 16 Tyrone Thompson, 17 Tamaiti Williams, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 TK Howden, 21 TJ Perenara (co-captain), 22 Ruben Love, 23 Bailyn Sullivan.
Ireland: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 James Hume, 12 Bundee Aki (captain), 11 Keith Earls, 10 Ciaran Frawley, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Joe McCarthy, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Jeremy Loughman
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Michael Lowry.
Date: Wednesday, June 29
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19.05 (08.05 UK & Ireland time; 07.05 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Jordan Way Graham Cooper
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen
Source: All Blacks