The Māori All Blacks will face the Fijian cibi [haka] when the two sides play in a home and away two-match series this year, New Zealand Rugby announced today.
The Flying Fijians will have first home-advantage when the Māori All Blacks head to Suva for their season-opening match on Saturday 13 July.
It will be the first time the team will assemble since their tour to the Americas last year. Both teams then head to Rotorua where they face off again at Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday 20 July.
New Zealand Rugby Board Chair Dr Farah Palmer says the two-match series is a great opportunity for both Māori and Fijian rugby fans to celebrate their identities and great rugby.
“This is truly exciting. We know that the Maori All Blacks’ style of rugby is very popular around the world, and the team are often-sought ambassadors for the game," says Palmer.
“Pitting the Māori All Blacks against a Flying Fijian side on a mission for Rugby World Cup 2019...with passionate supporters behind both teams, will be the perfect formula to create an epic encounter," she continues.
Fiji Rugby chief executive John O'Connor says, "I’m delighted to say that the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians have been given such a great opportunity to play two test matches against Māori All Blacks on the 13th and the 20th of July. It is indeed a timely boost for the Flying Fijians as we will prepare for the Rugby World Cup in Japan later in the year.
“We are on track with our preparations and no doubt the Māori All Blacks visit will be a memorable one for the team itself and the fans here.”
Bay of Plenty Rugby chief executive Mike Rogers says the Māori All Blacks have a rich rugby history beginning with their first match played in the city more than 100 years ago.
“it’s also a significant occasion for home town hero and Māori All Blacks head coach Clayton McMillan, it will be the first time the team has played in his home town under his tutelage," Rogers says.
Māori All Blacks head coach Clayton McMillan says the team had long wanted to play strong international sides.
“Fiji recorded that historical win against France during their end of year tour and so they come into this year in impressive form. I think they will be a great challenge for us playing in their back yard, and here in Rotorua, a place that is very special to me.
“For us, there’s a sense of unfinished business as we probably left our rugby public less than satisfied after our last home game against the British and Irish Lions in 2017. I know we’d certainly like to make that up to Māori All Blacks supporters.”
Under 20 Curtain raiser
As well as the Māori All Blacks playing Fiji, a Fijian Under-20 side and a New Zealand Māori Under-20 side will be the curtain raiser.
Both teams arrive in the city one week prior to the match and Councillor Charles Sturt, who leads the Rotorua Lakes Council sport and recreation portfolio, says there will be a number of different Māori and Pasifika events leading up to the match.
"We’re thrilled Rotorua has been chosen to host this match. Rotorua has declared its commitment to becoming a bi-cultural district and Te Arawa culture is a core fabric of our local community so we have a special affinity with the Māori All Blacks.
"We also have a strong Pasifika community in Rotorua, and we will have a number of events outside of the game to celebrate all things Pasifika. And, of course, we have a very proud history of producing some of New Zealand’s rugby greats who have played for both the Māori All Blacks and the All Blacks."
“Rotorua is known as a great place for hosting great events and I’m sure the local community and rugby fans from elsewhere will show their support for this game."