The All Black selectors announced a New Zealand Maori team packed with skill, pace and explosive power – and All Black experience. A lightning quick backline and a formidable looking back row mean that the Lions will be facing much more than the most fearsome haka on their tour.
So who will be the main threats as the Maoris take on the Lions next week?
Nehe Milner-Scudder and Damian McKenzie
This selection combination is a slice of heaven for rugby fans. Two of the best entertainers in world rugby come together at last. The wizardry and trickery guaranteed to be on display in Rotorua may enough to inspire a new JK Rowling series. The challenge will be for their less magical team-mates to keep up with their speed of thought and feet. It is vital that the Lions shut down these two.
Ihaia West and Akira Ioane
Oh no, not again. The Lions may not want to revisit memories of their loss to the Blues at Eden Park but the player who scorched forty metres to win the game will be there, front and centre in a Maori shirt on June 17. Added to that, the main bully boy of the Blues pack, Akira Ioane, who took delight in giving the Lions therapeutic (for him) scalp massages after almost every mistake on Wednesday. Ioane is on the fringes of the All Black squad as he has been named as injury cover for the test matches, so will have added incentive to rub a few more faces in it on Saturday week.
The deputies: Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Otere Black
Tahuriorangi will cause more problems beyond the no doubt mangled pronunciation of his name by the Sky commentators (and Sean Fitzpatrick is NOT an exception). He is TJ Perenara’s deputy and is a snappy, pacy halfback with excellent support play and fitness. Otere Black is Beauden Barrett’s second in line at the Hurricanes, and if you are second in line to the best in the world – well, you can’t be too shabby yourself. Black and West will probably share the fly-half responsibilities for the Maori side. Where West has explosive speed and flair, Black has greater poise and consistency.
A strong Highlander presence in the Maori squad with six players selected. Many of these are on the fringe of All Black selection such as captain Ash Dixon and Tom Franklin, or not nailed down a spot – Elliot Dixon. Rob Thompson is another Highlander debutant to watch out for. He is very under-rated and has a habit of scoring tries at vital moments.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena