Why New Zealand’s Other All Blacks Matter

“The Māori All Blacks are a source of rugby-playing pride in a community that has struggled economically,” The Economist reports in a sports feature. “The team … is an enduring oddity.”

“In late 2018, as the All Blacks recovered from a rare defeat in Ireland, the Māori were crushing Chile 73-0 in Santiago,” the magazine reports. “Fiji, the ninth-ranked team in the world, proved too strong [recently], winning 27-10. But the Māori have had better days. They beat the touring British and Irish Lions side in 2005, and England and Ireland separately in 2010 in matches to mark the Māori team’s centenary. Only three major international sides – the All Blacks themselves, Wales and South Africa – have never lost to the Māori.

“The Māori team was founded in 1910, in rugby union’s amateur age, as a lure to tempt Māori players away from the money on offer in professional rugby league in Australia. Today the side stands at the apex of a system of Māori rugby in which provincial, iwi and community teams are able to provide opportunities to talented Māori players, especially those in rural areas, who miss the conventional routes to rugby stardom offered by big-name schools and clubs.

“While the demand from some quarters that a separate Māori side should compete at the Rugby World Cup has come to naught, the team’s name was changed from ‘New Zealand Māori’ to ‘Māori All Blacks’ to mark its status as representative of a nation. New Zealand’s rugby authorities now formally consider it to be one of a number of ‘high performance’ teams – a pipeline for future All Blacks – and, separately, maintain a Māori Rugby Board to develop Māori rugby from the grassroots.

“Yet in other ways, the promised new beginning of the ‘Timatanga’ haka has staggered. Since 2010 the Māori All Blacks have played few fixtures, and those they have played have been mostly against inferior opponents. In their rare recent meetings with top-flight sides, the Māori have been convincingly defeated. The team seems increasingly adrift in the modern rugby era, when shorter tours by top-notch international teams deprive the Māori All Blacks of the robust opposition they have beaten in the past, and the New Zealand national team’s packed schedules keep the very best Māori players busy. (It is often impossible to play for both sides.)

“Malcolm Mulholland of Massey University, a historian of the team, suggests that the NZRU needs to value the Māori team more. With many second-tier international sides crying out for testing opposition, better use could be made of the Māori All Blacks. Fiji, notably, sees this month’s matches as valuable preparation for the World Cup, which kicks off in Japan in September. But, as Mulholland writes, the Māori play a longer game: ‘From an era when Māori battled for survival as a people, through a period of assimilation, to a time when being Māori is something to be proud of, New Zealand Māori have ridden the waves of Māori discontent and jubilation.’ Well into their second century, the team survives, an anomaly with a purpose and a status that stretches far beyond the field of play.”

Original article by C.H., The Economist, July 18, 2019.


Tags: Economist (The)  Malcolm Mulholland  Maori All Blacks  

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