You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Maori ABs can aspire to greatness: Cooper

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 15/06/2017 Angelo Risso

Maori All Blacks boss Colin Cooper has called on his troops to take an All Blacks mentality into Saturday's clash with the British and Irish Lions in Rotorua - and has named a matchday squad more than strong enough to do so.

Led by hooker Ash Dixon, Cooper's Maori squad is full to the brim with Super Rugby talent, including an all-Chiefs "spine" of Liam Messam at No.8, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Damian McKenzie in the halves, Charlie Ngatai at second-five and James Lowe at fullback.

The run-on XV includes eight Test-capped players, including All Blacks ring-ins Kerr-Barlow, Akira Ioane on the blindside and brother Rieko on the wing.

Cooper talked up his attacking arsenal to reporters on Thursday, saying the Maori outfit aspired to be as lethal and successful as their Test colleagues.

McKenzie, typically a fullback for the Chiefs, would be pushed forward in the hope his kicking game nullifies the Lions' much-vaunted defensive line speed.

Hurricanes livewire Nehe Milner-Skudder, a star of the All Blacks' 2015 Rugby World Cup success, also lines up opposite Rieko Ioane on the right edge.

"I want the players to be the best they can be," Cooper said.

"The team above us is the All Blacks, we work really closely with them - I want these players to be proud of who they are, and they get the opportunity to represent Maori, New Zealand rugby, and to aspire to be the best team in the world, which is the All Blacks."

The matchday XXIII, which includes two newcomers in Bryn Hall and Rob Thompson, is mostly made up of those who toured the United States and Europe in November.

On that occasion, the Maori started with a 54-7 thumping of USA before a 27-14 reverse to Munster and a 26-10 triumph over Harlequins.

Cooper said his side learned plenty of harsh lessons from their defeat in Limerick - including a taste of what the Lions are likely to bring, from defensive line speed to crashing midfield ball-runners and dominance at lineout and scrum time.

But having the same core of players at his disposal would boost their odds, as would calling on the memories of the Maori's 19-13 win over the Lions in 2005.

"There's some clarity and familiarity on how we want to play the game that's been good - we didn't get the whole team until Sunday," Cooper said.

"It's more about the mental side of the game, we can use the Maori culture and Maoridom to connect the group mentally, and give them a real focus on who we're representing - shedding the Super teams, the provincial teams, coming together.

"We're about being one, it's about the connections - we're all Maori in the end, so getting together is a lot easier than probably any other team."

MAORI ALL BLACKS: James Lowe, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Matt Proctor, Charlie Ngatai, Rieko Ioane, Damian McKenzie, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Liam Messam, Elliot Dixon, Akira Ioane, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler, Ben May, Ash Dixon (c), Kane Hames. RESERVES: Hikawera Elliot, Chris Eves, Marcel Renata, Leighton Price, Kara Pryor, Bryn Hall, Ihaia West, Rob Thompson.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon