One week ahead of the Maori All Blacks‘ first match with Ireland, three players have been called into the Maori side to bolster their stocks.
Crusaders loose forward Cullen Grace, Highlanders lock Max Hicks and Blues halfback Sam Nock have all received late call-ups into the composite team and have immediately joined the side in camp ahead of Wednesday’s fixture.
While Nock is a Maori All Blacks stalwart, having featured in two previous squads, Grace and Hicks will earn their first appearances should they take the field against the Irish.
Grace was one of the standout performers throughout the Crusaders’ title-winning Super Rugby Pacific campaign and was the main brains behind their dominant lineout performance over the Blues in the grand final.
He previously earned one test cap for the All Blacks in 2020 but has missed out on selection over the prior two years. Grace will be competing with the likes of Reed Prinsep, Caleb Delany, TK Howden, Cameron Suagoa and Billy Harmon for minutes over the two-match series with Ireland and despite only being called up this week, looms as a potential starting option on either the blindside flank or at number 8.
Nock is the third halfback included in the squad but will be hard-pressed to earn any minutes with two 2021 All Blacks ahead of him in the pecking order, Brad Weber of the Chiefs and TJ Pererara or the Hurricanes.
With Aaron Smith carrying a minor injury into the All Blacks camp, it’s feasible that one of Weber or Perenara could be whistled up to join the test squad for their three-match series, thus paving the way for Nock’s inclusion in the Maori All Blacks side.
It’s potentially a similar story in the second row, with Hicks joining Isaia Walker-Leawere, Manaaki Selby-Rickit and Josh Dickson to round out the Maori squad.
Josh Lord, who was originally named as one of five locks in the All Blacks for July, now requires surgery and will miss the remainder of the season, leaving the All Blacks down one man in the second row. Hicks’ inclusion in the Maori All Blacks could signal that one of the other three names could now be under consideration for even higher honours – but it could also simply be a case of boosting numbers for the Maori.
Hicks made his Super Rugby debut earlier this season receiving a late call-up to the Highlanders following a slew of injuries in the second row. With Selby-Rickit and Pari Pari Parkinson sidelined for the bulk of the season, and Dickson and Sam Caird all spending time out, Hicks was able to earn seven appearances off the bench during the latter part of the campaign.
“It’s great to have three quality additions to the wider squad,” said head coach Clayton McMillan of the new call-ups.”These guys will give us more flexibility to prepare and put up our best performance against the top tier team Ireland over the coming weeks.”
The first match between the Maori All Blacks and Ireland will take place in Hamilton on Wednesday, June 29, with the second scheduled for two weeks later in Wellington.
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