Top NZ rugby team slated for game here next year in November

SINGAPORE - Rugby fans may not get to witness the tries, tackles and thrills of the Maori All Blacks in Singapore this week but good news is on the horizon.

The Straits Times understands that the all-star outfit are pencilled in for a competitive match at the National Stadium, with the earliest date mooted to be next November, following the Rugby World Cup in England.

The team - which feature the best New Zealand players of Maori descent - are in town for a three-day promotional trip, which was shortened after their Nov 15 clash against the invitational Asia Pacific Dragons at the National Stadium was cancelled due to the poor state of the field.

Last week, they beat Japan in test matches in Kobe and Tokyo to extend their winning streak to 18 games, a run that stretches back to 2003 and includes famous victories over England and the British Lions.

It would have been a tasty encounter against the Dragons, who are coached by All Blacks legend Tana Umaga and boast former Kiwi stars like Rico Gear and Ali Williams in the line-up.

Jon Phelps, managing director of Hong Kong-based promoter Carinat Sports Marketing which owns the Dragons, said: "We are extremely disappointed that the match was cancelled but just as determined to get these two top teams facing off in Singapore.

"It will happen, it's just a matter of when."

Yesterday, the Maori All Blacks led over 100 youngsters in a coaching clinic at Raffles Institution (RI) in Bishan.

The session - organised by All Blacks global sponsor AIG - kicked off with the students performing the Haka war cry for their distinguished guests, who nodded approvingly.

"It's a an honour and a privilege to perform such a historic dance in front of a true All Blacks outfit," said RI's A Division team captain Shant Sin, 17, breathless and beaming after leading his troops during the rendition.

It was then the turn of the Maori to showcase what they do best with a rugby ball - and even a guitar.

After an hour-long lesson in the art of passing and tackling, the players surprised the wide-eyed youngsters with a hearty rendition of a Maori folk song.

Patiently obliging selfie and autograph requests, the squad then fielded questions from the students.

One wanted to know the difference between the Maori side and the New Zealand national team since both carry the All Blacks moniker.

"We are better-looking and we know how to sing," hooker Joe Royal deadpanned to the amusement of his team-mates.

As for who the team's biggest gym rat is, all fingers were pointed at No. 8 Elliot Dixon who bench-presses an impressive 160kg.

The squad were at the Padang later to train the national team as well as selected students from neighbourhood schools such as Endeavour Primary and Regent Secondary.

It was left to captain Charlie Ngatai to offer the most valuable bit of advice.

The Chiefs centre, 24, said: "You don't need size to succeed in rugby - pride and passion is what makes a player great."

This article was first published on November 11, 2014.
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