Players stunned at tour callup
Tasman Makos players Shane Christie and Quentin MacDonald have both capped impressive individual ITM Cup rugby campaigns with selection in the Maori All Blacks team.
Openside flanker Christie is one of five loose forwards named yesterday in the 26-player squad, with MacDonald named alongside Hawke's Bay's Hika Elliot as the two hookers.
The squad, which will be coached by Jamie Joseph, leaves on November 6 for a three-match tour to the United Kingdom including matches against Leicester Tigers, an RFU Championship XV and Canada in England.
Despite some eye-catching form for Tasman this season, both expressed genuine surprise at their selection.
"I wasn't really confident at all," said Christie.
A member of Gordon Tietjens' New Zealand sevens side that won last year's IRB world series title, Christie said he rated his Maori selection as even more significant. He said it was probably Tasman's improved performances this season that helped promote his selection claims.
"We played better as a team this year, which probably helped me as well. Last year I found that it was hard to go forward as a loosie. But this year our forward pack really stood up and made my job easier."
Christie is part of a dynamic loose forward brigade, which also includes Bay of Plenty's Tanerau Latimer, who'll captain the side, Manawatu's Nick Crosswell, Southland's Elliot Dixon and Hawke's Bay's Karl Lowe.
"It's certainly a good challenge . . . I'll be with some pretty good players."
Like Christie, MacDonald was stunned at his international callup and agreed it was recognition of Tasman's improved efforts this year.
"There'll be a few more [Makos] playing Super rugby, so for me and Shane to top it off with [selection in] the Maori team, it'll be awesome," MacDonald said.
"It's great, I'm pretty stoked actually. I knew we were in contention, but there's a few good hookers around. It just depended on whether [Dane] Coles made the All Blacks or not, so that's good for him. No, it'll be great to get a chance to play for the Maori team."
The pair will also be joined on tour by two former Tasman team-mates in prop Ben May, now playing for Waikato, and winger Kade Poki, now with Southland.
Coach Joseph said he was delighted with the calibre of his team. "The Maori All Blacks are a unique team and we feel very privileged to be part of this special campaign," he said.
"We are very excited about this tour to England as the programme offers an excellent opportunity to display the depth of talent we have.
"Taking on the Leicester Tigers and the unique Championship XV at home will be a challenge for us, especially knowing that the home advantage will be a huge factor for them.
"We are looking forward to the challenge and I know these young men selected today will rise to the occasion."
Christie and MacDonald both confirmed they are in the process of re-signing with Tasman for next year's ITM Cup championship campaign.
2012 NZ MAORI SQUAD Halfbacks: Jamison Gibson-Park (Ngati Porou/Nga Tai, Taranaki), Frae Wilson (Ngati Rangi/Te Ati Awa Wellington) First five-eighth: Willie Ripia (Ngai Tuhoe, Bay of Plenty) Midfield backs: Tim Bateman(Ngai Tahu, Wellington), Jackson Willison (Ngati Mahuta, Waikato), Charles Ngatai (Ngati Porou/Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Wellington) Outside backs: Declan O'Donnell (Ngati Tuwharetoa/Ngati Porou, Waikato), Andre Taylor (Ngati Tuwharetoa/Ngati Kahungunu, Taranaki), Kurt Baker (Ngapuhi, Taranaki), Trent Renata (Ngati Maru, Waikato), Kade Poki (Te Ati Awa, Southland) Hookers: Hika Elliot (Ngati Awa, Hawke's Bay), Quentin MacDonald (Rangitane, Tasman) Props: Ben May (Ngati Maniapoto, Waikato), Bronson Murray (Ngapuhi, Bay of Plenty), Ben Afeaki (Ngati Awa, North Harbour), Jacob Ellison (Ngati Porou, Otago) Locks: Jarrad Hoeata (Ngati Kahungunu, Taranaki), Jason Eaton (Ngati Apa, Taranaki), Romana Graham (Ngati Awa, Waikato), Ross Filipo (Muaupoko, Wellington) Loose forwards: Nick Crosswell (Ngati Porou, Manawatu), Tanerau Latimer (capt, Te Arawa, Bay of Plenty), Elliot Dixon (Ngapuhi, Southland), Karl Lowe (Ngati Kahungunu, Hawke's Bay), Shane Christie (Ngati Kura, Tasman) The team plays Leicester Tigers, an RFU Championship team and Canada.
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