"It's like playing a relative" - Fiji Rugby CEO welcomes Māori All Blacks

By James Perry

Fiji Rugby Chief Executive Officer, John O'Connor says the two-match series between the Māori All Blacks and the Flying Fijians is more than just a couple of 80 minute games of rugby.

The Māori All Blacks were welcomed into Fiji last night with a traditional kava ceremony at Nadi International Airport.

The Clayton McMillan-coached side responded with a waiata, before amazing the crowd of fans with the haka, Ka Mate. 

O'Connor says, "We're almost brothers in terms of culture.  While we might be apart, our culture and lifestyle are almost the same, in a sense, community-based. With the Māori it's like playing a relative, that's come and been away for so long, eh?"

The Māori All Black squad was welcomed to Nadi airport with a traditional kava ceremony on Tuesday night (Photo/file).

It has been a long time between drinks for these two sides.  They last met four years ago, almost to the day in 2015 at ANZ National Stadium, Suva- this week's venue. The Māori All Blacks eked out a 27-26 win that day. 

However, O'Connor believes come this Saturday, it's all on between the Pacific relations. He says a win this week will go a long towards boosting the Fijian side's confidence as they prepare for the bigger picture of the World Cup later this year.

"That's the target that we've set ourselves," he told Te Ao Māori News today in Suva, "Because then it sets the platform and it will drive and motivate players to the next- so it is the first start of a battle. Hopefully we get the results that we want, but we know that it will be tough."

With their historic victory over France in Paris last November, O'Connor is confident his side can cause some trouble for the Māori side in what will be hot and humid conditions in Fiji on Saturday afternoon. He watched the side train on Tuesday and liked what he saw. 

"The confidence is there, just a matter of players going in," he says.

Suva's National Stadium will play host to the Māori All Blacks v Fiji game this Saturday. Photo/file

The Fijians are pooled with Australia, Wales, Georgia and Uruguay at Rugby World Cup 2019.  A win against the Māori All Blacks this week will help them believe they can cause an upset or two in Japan, and earn themselves a third World Cup quarter-final appearance.