Maori All Blacks squad named
Maori All Blacks coach Colin Cooper has named a squad full of Super Rugby talent in the backs, but light on experience up front for a two-match tour of North America.
Young Hawke's Bay first five-eighth Ihaia West will take charge of a backline served by veteran halfback Piri Weepu and led by new captain Tim Bateman from the midfield.
Bateman takes the captaincy from Chiefs flanker Tanerau Latimer, who has made himself unavailable to have surgery on a longstanding arm injury.
The backline also features former All Blacks wing Zac Guildford, Chiefs midfielder Charlie Ngatai and wing Robbie Robinson, and Hurricanes fullback Andrew Taylor.
The side contains six former All Blacks and 11 players from last year's Maori squad.
However, up front there are some names many fans will be unfamiliar with including young props Nick Barrett (Southland), Chris Eves (Manawatu), and Bay of Plenty's Kane Hames and Joe Royal, who can also cover hooker.
That places plenty of responsibility on fringe All Blacks tighthead prop Ben Afeaki and experienced hookers Hika Elliott and Corey Flynn.
The locking selections suggest the Maori plan to play the game at pace with sometime Highlanders loosies Joe Wheeler and Jarrad Hoeata joined by tall youngster Luke Katene, of Canterbury.
Tasman are rewarded for their NPC form with Wheeler joined by form loose forwards Shane Christie and Liam Squire.
The team play just two matches, against Canada on November 3 and the United States in Philadelphia on November 9.
Cooper said the Maori culture would remain the core of the team's ethos, but also noted the side had been picked with an emphasis on aligning more closely with the New Zealand Rugby Union's high performance programme.
That meant younger players were favoured in some cases and that the All Blacks selectors were heavily involved in consultation with assistant coach Tabai Matson.
"I'm really excited about this tour and the opportunities it gives young players to press for higher honours, as well as the chance to honour the proud legacy of the teams that have gone before," Cooper said.
"New Zealand Rugby has identified the Maori All Blacks as a high performance team and our selections reflect that.
"We have experienced campaigners like Hika Elliott and Piri Weepu as well as young up and comers like Ihaia West and Liam Squire so the side has great balance."
Several players were not considered due to injury including Wellington lock Ross Filipo and Northland prop Bronson Murray.
The 26-strong squad leaves for North America on Monday.
NEW ZEALAND MAORI SQUAD: Forwards: Hookers: Hika Elliott (Ngati Awa, Counties Manukau), Corey Flynn (Ngai Tahu, Canterbury). Props: Ben Afeaki (Ngati Awa, North Harbour), Nick Barrett (Ngati Kahungunu, Southland), Chris Eves (Tainui, Manawatu), Kane Hames (Ngai Tuhoe/Ngati Porou, Bay of Plenty), Joe Royal (Te Arawa/Ngati Whatua I Orakei, Bay of Plenty). Locks: Jarrad Hoeata (Ngati Kahungunu/Ngai Tuhoe, Taranaki), Luke Katene (Ngati Toa, Canterbury), Joe Wheeler (Ngai Tahu, Tasman). Loose forwards: Luke Braid (Ngati Tumutumu, Auckland), Shane Christie (Ngati Kuri, Tasman), Elliot Dixon (Ngapuhi, Southland), Liam Squire (Ngai Tahu, Tasman), Blade Thomson (Ngapuhi, Taranaki). Backs: Halfbacks: Jamieson Gibson-Park (Ngati Porou/Ngai Tai, Taranaki), Piri Weepu (Te Whatohea/Ngai Tahu, Auckland). First five-eighth: Ihaia West (Ngati Kahungunu/Ngati Porou, Hawke's Bay). Midfield: Tim Bateman (Ngai Tahu, Wellington), Charlie Ngatai (Ngati Porou/Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Wellington), Jackson Willison (Ngati Mahuta, Waikato). Outsides: Kurt Baker (Ngapuhi, Taranaki), Zac Guildford (Ngati Kahungunu/Ngai Tahu, Hawke's Bay), Robbie Robinson (Ngati Tuwharetoa, Southland), Andre Taylor (Ngati Tuwharetoa/Ngati Kahungunu, Taranaki), Matt Proctor (Ngai te Rangi/Ngapuhi, Wellington).