Māori All Blacks entertain school students, win new fans

By James Perry

The Māori All Blacks turned it on for the students of Stella Maris Primary School in Suva, Fiji, entertaining the kids with dance moves, before helping them with their rugby skills.

Prop Ross Wright (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Porou) says, "You can see how much they love us being here and I guess just their passion for rugby itself- it's pretty special to see, so yeah it's good to see and just give back to the Fijian community."

Some of the senior students were given an opportunity to ask questions of the Māori All Blacks, some of which left the players hoping that the Flying Fijians would be only half as difficult to deal with.

Loose forward Billy Harmon, who was only called into the squad as a late injury replacement for Eliot Dixon, was asked how confident he was in winning tomorrow's clash against the Flying Fijians.  He answered diplomatically, "it's going to come down to the final minutes."

After the formalities were over and the players had been dressed with garlands and nourished with fresh coconuts to drink, the students were put through their paces, developing their skills in various aspects of the game. 

Antonio believes the students enjoyed the experience because they are usually coached by one of the teachers, "but getting the experts?  Oh, it's a lifetime remembrance for these little boys. You never know one of them might join the Māori All Blacks later on," he says.

It's the second time the school has been visited by a touring NZ team in the past month. The Chiefs spent some time at the school during their visit to Suva earlier this year to play the Crusaders. And just as it was then, Antonio thinks that maybe the Māori team may have converted some local fans ahead of tomorrow's game.

She says that after the Chiefs visit, many of the Stella Marist students cheered for the Waikato side.  With the Chiefs staging an epic come-from-behind victory to beat the Crusaders, it could prove to be a lucky omen for the Māori All Blacks.

However, Antonio says, the students tend to be fans of New Zealand Rugby. 

"That's something very interesting you see, to be playing with our flying Fijians tomorrow, but these children still have New Zealand at heart."

Another highlight for the locals today was hearing from the two Māori All Blacks players with Fijian heritage.

Lock Isaiah Walker-Leawere is the son of former Fiji captain and Ngāti Porou East Coast lock Kele Leawere, and new addition to the team Haereiti Hetet (Ngāti Maniapoto) is the son of former King Country and Fiji prop Joeli Veitiyaki.  Both players addressed the students about what it would be like to play against some of their own people. 

Many students flocked to a poster board containing pictures of individual Māori All Blacks players, pointing out their favourites or who they would most like to watch tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, many pages of school books were sacrificed in the pursuit of autographs.  With smiles on their faces, the students seemed unfazed by the damaged texts.