Opinion: All Blacks v Māori All Blacks would have been better

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Opinion – It didn’t take long for the tweets to start flowing about the All Blacks’ match against Tonga last night and it quickly became a one-way torrent.

All Blacks players pose with the trophy and some of Tonga’s players after victory during the rugby test match at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on July 3, 2021.
Photo: AFP / Michael Bradley

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‘Pointless’. ‘Unfair’. ‘Something is wrong within the game’. I could go on, but you get the picture. 102 points in a test match is unusual, but when they’re all scored by one team, questions need to be asked as to how and why. Especially since even someone wearing a blindfold could see this coming a mile off.

It took the All Blacks just over a minute to score their first try on Mt Smart Stadium. After a quarter of an hour they were up 24-0, Brad Weber had a hat trick after 50 minutes and Will Jordan five in just over an hour. In fact, the only somewhat exciting bit of play was to see if the All Blacks could get a hundred points, mostly for the benefit of gamblers who had put money on that outcome.

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What was gained, other than the 7-1 payout promised by the TAB on the bat being raised for a ton? Not an awful lot at first glance, although it’s clear that the All Black coaching staff were happy with what was essentially a lightly opposed training session. Post match Ian Foster tried unsuccessfully to take the focus away from the massively one-sided scoreline, but did eventually have the time to praise the efforts of his debutants. Fair enough too – Quinn Tupaea, Ethan Blackadder, Finlay Christie and George Bower all looked like they slotted seamlessly into the side, even though much sterner tests await.

However, the biggest question of the night should have been why the fixtures even looked the way they did anyway, given that there was a much better alternative sitting right there.

Before the test, the Māori All Blacks beat a plucky Manu Samoa side for the second weekend in a row, which ended their schedule for the year. Earlier in the week, Foster was asked whether an All Blacks v Māori All Blacks fixture would be something he was interested in, to which he dealt a surprisingly firm ‘no’. MAB captain Ash Dixon was asked how that made him feel a day later, he said he didn’t want to say anything that would get him in trouble before admitting that a match against the All Blacks would certainly be something he would be interested in.

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It certainly would have provided a lot more intrigue than the match against Tonga. For a start, more people would have shown up: the crowd figure of 15,000 is the lowest home test total in 25 years (and even that number seemed quite dubious to those of us who were familiar with what a crowd like that looks like at Mt Smart, given that would be a pretty good turnout for a Warriors game). It’s not unprecedented, although the last time the two sides met was 48 years ago.

Who wouldn’t want to see that game? Yes, the All Blacks would have most probably still won, perhaps even comfortably. But that’s what the All Blacks can do to even the most well prepared and resourced of their opponents. Maybe, just maybe though, the MABs would catch them on a bad day and run them close. There was no feeling that was going to happen at all last night against Tonga, not from when it was revealed they were picking players out of club rugby all the way till when brave skipper Sonatane Takalua fought back tears addressing the crowd. The Tongans and Samoans could have been pitted against each other for their World Cup qualifying match, keeping the festival of Pasifika rugby intact.

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Oh well. It didn’t happen and probably won’t any time soon, since Foster’s views are clearly shared by NZ Rugby, given how long it’s been since the MABs and All Blacks played each other. In the meantime, we can probably ask those same administrators, as well as the ones from World Rugby how often they want to see the All Blacks racking up a century – because it’s at that point it makes a mockery of calling it a ‘test’ match.

Alex Nankivell (R) of the Maori All Blacks makes a strong run during the rugby Test match with Samoa in Auckland on July 3, 2021.
Photo: AFP / Michael Bradley

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