Troubled first five earns Maori call up
One name stood out in Jamie Joseph’s New Zealand Maori rugby squad to tour the UK.
Only one player hasn’t earned his trip with some quality rugby on the national provincial scene. That name, of course, is troubled five-eighths Willie Ripia, the former Taranaki and Hurricanes No 10 who’s working his way back up the ranks after coming clean on a gambling addiction that wrecked his move to the Western Force.
Joseph was relaxed and up front about the selection of the now Rotorua-based 27-year-old who has been turning out for the Bay of Plenty development side this season while he’s dealt with his off-field problems.
Ripia has been receiving counselling for his gambling addiction and told Fairfax Media he is determined to turn his life around and overcome a problem that has dogged him for his entire professional career.
The Kiwi left the Force in disgrace because of it, and he now gets to use the New Zealand Maori team as his first major step to proving he can still be relied on as a team-mate and as a player to perform in the higher echelons of the game.
Joseph reckoned, for his part, that there was no better platform than the Maori to help a man like Ripia rebuild a tattered career.
“Willie is a class player and has been part of the Maori team for a couple of years, and has played Super Rugby for a long time,” said Joseph today.
“He’s had some troubles as well.
“But part of this team is to promote our people and promote our players. I guess in Willie’s situation it gives him a second chance. He’s an experienced football player who’s going to the UK to play three games in two weeks and at first five he’s the guy responsible for driving our game-plan.
“We didn’t have a lot of experience in that position. He gets a really good opportunity and we’ll see what he can do on tour.”
Ripia is the only specialist No 10 chosen in the touring squad of 26, though Joseph confirmed Wellington’s Tim Bateman and Waikato’s Trent Renata would provide cover there.
Joseph has chosen the strongest squad he could, given 10 Maori players were included in Steve Hansen’s All Blacks and a few others (such as Zac Guildford and Robbie Roibinson) were injured.
He believes it’s a group that can uphold the proud traditions of the team in tour matches against the Leicester Tigers on November 13, a Championship Select XV on November 17 and Canada on November 23.
“We get an opportunity now to bring through the next wave of young players to where they might go, and to me that’s pretty exciting.”
The squad contains a mix of old hands, such as new skipper Tanerau Latimer, locks Jason Eaton and Jarrad Hoeata and hooker Hika Elliot who have all worn the All Black jersey, and the new breed of young talent, led by the likes of halfbacks Jamison Gibson-Park and Frae Wilson, wing Declan O’Donnell, flanker Shane Christie and utility back Andre Taylor.
“One of our aims is to develop talent for New Zealand rugby, and we’re very proud that we produce players for the All Blacks,” said assistant coach Daryl Gibson.
“One player who can showcase his talents is Andre Taylor. He’s had a fantastic Super Rugby season. Tim Bateman is another given the opportunity who can really push for higher honours.
“Then you drop down to the likes of Frae Wilson and Jamison Gibson-Park, who have just come on to the scene, but are players of immense talent and ones we want to keep developing.
“Looking at our forward pack we’ve got a number of seasoned veterans there and there’s reward for the likes of Shane Christie who’s been outstanding for Tasman all year.
“There’s a good balance in the squad. We didn’t want to take too many old, gnarly veterans.
‘‘We wanted a good balance between young players hungry to perform in this jersey and genuinely excited about going on a three-week tour.”
Joseph said the selection of Latimer to lead the side was an “obvious” one.
“Tanerau knows the type of rugby we want to play and the feel and balance between the football and what gores on off the field. He’s a natural leader for us. It’s a difficult tour, and as coaches we haven’t got a lot of time to prepare the team, so we have got to have great leadership.”
Officials also unveiled, and blessed, the team's new jersey today. It contains a specially designed embossed motif which reflects the traditions, beliefs and aspirations of the Maori team.
MAORI ALL BLACKS SQUAD
Forwards: Hika Elliot (Ngati Awa - Hawke's Bay), Quentin MacDonald (Rangitane - Tasman), Ben May (Ngati Maniapoto - Waikato), Bronson Murray (Ngapuhi - Bay of Plenty), Ben Afeaki (Ngati Awa - North Harbour), Jacob Ellison (Ngati Porou - Otago), Jarrad Hoeata (Ngati Kahungunu - Taranaki), Jason Eaton (Ngati Apa - Taranaki), Romana Graham (Ngati Apa - Waikato), Ross Filipo (Muaupoko - Wellington), Nick Crosswell (Ngati Porou - Manawatu), Tanerau Latimer - captain (Te Arawa - Bay of Plenty), Elliot Dixon (Ngapuhi - Southland), Karl Lowe (Ngati Kahungunu - Hawke's Bay), Shane Christie (Ngati Kura - Tasman).
Backs: Jamison Gibson-Park (Ngati Porou/Nga Tai - Taranaki), Frae Wilson (Ngati Rangi/Te Ati Awa - Wellingon), Willie Ripia (Ngai Tuhoe - Bay of Plenty), Tim Bateman (Ngai Tahu - Wellington), Jackson Willison (Ngati Mahuta - Waikato), Charlie Ngatai (Ngati Porou/Te Whanau-a-Apanui - Wellington), 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).
Schedule: 13 November, v Leicester Tigers, at Welford Road Stadium; 17 November, v Championship Select XV, at Castle Park; 23 November, v Canada, at Oxford University.