The New Zealand Maori team will replace the Junior All Blacks in next year's IRB Pacific Nations Cup tournament, the New Zealand Rugby Union announced today.
New Zealand has dominated the competition in its first two years, with the Junior All Blacks winning in 2006 and 2007.
NZRU Professional Rugby Manager Neil Sorensen said a review of the organisation’s High Performance Strategy had identified the need for a change in focus for both the Junior All Blacks and New Zealand Maori in 2008.
“The review has identified the need for New Zealand Maori to play more matches at home and by competing in the Pacific Nations Cup, we will achieve this.
“As for the Junior All Blacks, our concern is that players selected for this team play a huge amount of rugby in the Rebel Sport Super 14 followed immediately by a further five weeks of rugby in the Pacific Nations Cup. These players then return to their provinces to prepare for the Air New Zealand Cup. For the sake of player welfare we have decided not to assemble a Junior All Blacks team next year.”
Sorensen said New Zealand was very committed to the IRB Pacific Nations Cup so the decision had been made to have New Zealand Maori compete in that competition rather than the Churchill Cup tournament, which New Zealand Maori has won twice in recent years.
Sorensen said the New Zealand Maori team’s participation in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup was a fantastic opportunity for fans to watch the side play at home for the first time since 2005.
“The team has a tremendous standing internationally but it is equally important that New Zealand Maori gets the chance to play in front of their home supporters.
“The New Zealand Maori game against the touring British and Irish Lions in 2005 was a fantastic occasion as was the team’s match against Fiji in Suva that year. We have no doubt that playing in New Zealand and in the Pacific Islands will further enhance New Zealand Maori’s iconic status,” Sorensen said.
New Zealand Maori Rugby Board Chairman Paul Quinn said the New Zealand Maori team had huge mana within the Maori and rugby communities and welcomed the chance for fans to once again see the side play at home.
“The team is an inspiration and aspirational pathway for young Maori rugby players and I’m sure there will be plenty of support for them,” he said.
The IRB will announce the full schedule for the 2008 Pacific Nations Cup in due course.