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Respect, culture and inspiration — Inside the Maori All Blacks

Wed, Nov 16, 2016, Posted by   print

2007 World Cup

In a week where England broke a ten-year hoodoo against the Springboks, Scotland were pipped at the post by the Wallabies again, and Wales got their first Test win in five matches, the Maori All Blacks were at the front of rugby’s consciousness.

It wasn’t a big tackle, a freak bit of skill, or a stunning try, but a poignant moment before the first whistle of the Maori All Blacks match against Munster in Limerick which caught the eye.

As the Maori All Blacks assembled in a triangular formation ahead of their pre-match haka Timatanga, captain Ash Dixon accompanied by senior players Joe Royal, Matt Proctor and Tim Bateman walked forward to the halfway line where Dixon lay out a Maori All Blacks jersey with the initials ‘AF’.

It was a simple yet touching tribute for the late Munster and Ireland rugby legend Anthony Foley. The jersey was presented to Foley’s two sons at the conclusion of the haka.

“We just wanted to do something different,” Dixon told ESPN. “It was about showing what we do here at the Maori All Blacks and our culture and putting that to the world and showing our respect for him.

“We wanted to give him something and we decided a Maori All Blacks jersey with his initials on it was fitting, and to present it the way we wanted to present it to them, putting our heads down in honour and respect.

“It was the least we could do, and it was received really well which we’re absolutely stoked about.”

For Dixon, leading the Maori All Blacks is so much more than just rugby.

While the team have a proud record of 20 consecutive wins over international opposition dating back to 2003, the results aren’t as important as the message they want to deliver.

“We want to inspire young Maori back in New Zealand. There’s a lot of young people growing up back home that feel like they are alone and turn towards other options like gangs and not make the best choices,” Dixon said.

“We want to inspire them not just in rugby but in any sport that there are opportunities for these people to push forward and if they can stick at it and can do well, there are big opportunities for them with teams like the Maori All Blacks.”

(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Dixon’s side, led by head coach Colin Cooper and assisted by former All Blacks in Tana Umaga and Carl Hoeft, have one last chance to spread their message in 2016 against Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop on Wednesday night.

There are plenty of kiwi connections at the London club with Nick Evans a long time servant at Quins, while Dixon’s former Super Rugby team-mate Mark Reddish will start the match at second row.

“We took a bit of a punch to the face last week,” said Dixon. “We were beaten by a very passionate Munster team so we’ve had to take a few learnings into this game and one of them was that we didn’t do very well at the breakdown.

“We’re expecting a similar game plan from Harlequins to what we had against Munster, they’re a really physical and passionate team who will punish you if you make mistakes so we need to be on our game.”

The match also provides British & Irish Lions Coach Warren Gatland another chance to get some precious intel ahead of their daunting 10-match-tour of New Zealand which starts in seven months’ time.

History was made the last time the Lions met the Maori All Blacks in Hamilton in 2005, where Gatland was just a stone’s throw away plying his trade as coach of local New Zealand province Waikato.

Sir Clive Woodward’s charges lost 19-13 to the New Zealand Maori, before the Lions were convincingly beaten in all three Tests by the All Blacks.

“That result in 2005 was massive for New Zealand Rugby and for Maori in general,” said Dixon.

“I know next year we’re going to give it a really good crack as a team and try and get a similar result as well but we know the Lions will have a really strong side.

“I’m really looking forward to it, it is a once in a life time opportunity to play the Lions, for me it’s right up there with playing Test match footy, so I can’t wait to be honest.”

Source Article from http://www.espn.co.uk/rugby/story/_/id/18061750/respect-culture-inspiration-maori-all-blacks
Respect, culture and inspiration — Inside the Maori All Blacks
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