Maori All Blacks head coach Colin Cooper has named four players from the senior All Blacks squad in his starting XV for Friday’s clash with the USA in Chicago.
All four All Blacks – Elliot Dixon, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Rieko Ioane, and Damian McKenzie – played for the Maori All Blacks last year.
Their re-entry into the Maori All Blacks also means a family reunion for brothers Akira and Rieko Ioane, and Marty and Damian McKenzie.
“These guys are all familiar with our environment so we know that they are able to move between the All Blacks and our squad with great ease,” said Cooper.
“The Maori All Blacks is another home for those guys.
“This is the most experienced squad we’ve had for a while, and many of the players who played for us last year have stepped up a level from there.
“It means that we have a really experienced playing 23, with only three new caps, starting with Kara Pryor who had a very good season with the Blues and then carried that into the Mitre 10 Cup.
“He was close to being named in the squad last year but was injured so it’s good to be able to give him a start.
“The other two, Marcel Renata and Leighton Price, will come off the bench this Friday; they played well in Mitre 10 Cup and it’s good to be able to give them a chance to earn a cap for this team.
“Ash Dixon takes on the captaincy duties this year but really he’s been part of the set up for a while. He has experience as a leader on the field, and with former captain Tim Bateman back in the mix, I know that the team will have some really solid decision makers on the field.”
The preparation time in Chicago has been good and they were clear about their game plan.
“The main focus will be on playing our game and making sure we give the USA due respect,” added Cooper.
“We’ve have had a look at them and they have a big raw game, a big pack and we will need to play with some structure. We will want to have a good focus on attack and defend with a lot of go forward.”
Maori All Blacks: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Rieko Ioane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jacob Skeen, 3 Ben May, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Joe Royal, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Leighton Price, 20 Shane Christie, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Sean Wainui
Date: Friday, November 5
Venue: Toyota Park, Chicago
Kick-off: 17:00 local (22:00 GMT)
Assistant Referees: tbc