The logjam of talent available for the All Blacks among the backs means that some incredibly talented players will miss out on Steve Hansen’s squad selection for the Lions Tests, which is to be named on June 8.
However, many of those players will get a chance to press their Test claims as part of the New Zealand Maori team, which will battle the Lions on June 17.
As you will see, the potential of the Maori backline is nothing short of terrifying.
15. Damian McKenzie
If rumours are correct, McKenzie may lose out to Jordie Barrett as the utility cover. This would be a bitter pill to swallow for the 22-year-old, as he has been electric for the Chiefs this year, with his usual brilliant line breaking and passing game and the fact that he has addressed the weakness in his tackling.
However, the All Blacks loss may be the New Zealand Maori’s gain as he will be given license to express himself from fullback, and his combination with the next player on our list could be truly breathtaking.
14. Nehe Milner-Skudder
Not a bad start, eh? Two of the most skilful and exciting players in world rugby could form a Harlem Globetrotters-like combination for the New Zealand Maori.
Milner-Skudder returned from injury on Friday and immediately ran rings around the Western Force defenders. His class means he could yet be selected for the All Blacks, but his fragile physical state will probably see him in a New Zealand Maori shirt first.
13. Rieko Ioane
Rieko Ioane may well make the All Blacks squad as utility cover, but if Steve Hansen selects conservatively the Lions may be in for a double dose of the Ioane brothers in the Blues and NZ Maori games. Ioane is an exceptional athlete, and his game is beginning to mature in his second season of top flight rugby.
He had a taste of the All Blacks environment on the northern tour, and a big performance against the Lions here may well prove irresistible to the selectors if injuries to the top team occur.
12. Matt Proctor
Proctor is a classy and pacy midfielder who plays for the explosive Hurricanes side. Good enough to force Vince Aso out the wing when he was fit, Proctor is rumoured to be ready to return from a period on the sidelines due to concussion issues.
Has been in the All Black selectors’ sights for a few seasons, and this may be the stage which sees him really make his mark.
11. James Lowe
Lowe has represented the New Zealand Maori with distinction in the past and many feel he has been unlucky not to pull on an All Black jersey. He plays a little loose but his never say never attitude often leads to brilliant moments and he has formed an electric combination with McKenzie at the Chiefs.
Scored a fantastic hat-trick against the Warratahs last weekend and expect him to have a huge game as he will want to leave a lasting impression on the selectors’ minds before he departs New Zealand shores next season to take up a contract at Irish powerhouse club Leinster.
10. Otere Black
Black is a classy fly-half who is Beauden Barrett’s deputy at the Wellington Hurricanes. Has experience with the New Zealand Maori and at New Zealand age group levels. Black has the poise to be able to steer this explosive stable of talent outside him. A consistent goal kicker with a subtle running game.
9. Tawera Kerr Barlow
Another All Black departing for Europe at the end of the season, Kerr-Barlow came off the bench in the 2015 World Cup final, and has been on fire for the Chiefs in 2017. Would probably have a long and distinguished career for any other international side. A few minor injuries and the rise in TJ Perenara’s form and status meant that he has slipped out of the match day squad of 23.
He may yet be part of the wider All Black squad, but could be released to play for the New Zealand Maori. A rugged halfback with pace and snappy delivery rounds off this backline, which could leave the Lions chasing shadows in two weeks’ time.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena