13th Nov 2012 5:38pm | By Editor
When Tanerau Latimer leads the Maori All Blacks onto Leicester’s Welford Road for the first of three tour matches on Tuesday, he’ll be representing his nation, his people and more than 114 years of New Zealand’s sporting history.
It wasn’t the All Blacks or Wallabies who were the first overseas team to tour the Home Nations, it was in fact the original Maori All Blacks, then the New Zealand Natives, in 1888-89. The reason the All Blacks wear their globally recognised kit is that they adopted it from the Maoris – they’d previously worn blue. And no prizes for guessing who first delivered an iconic on-field haka before kick-off.
“Playing for the Maori All Blacks is big,” says 26-year-old Latimer, who’s represented the full All Blacks six times. “When we pull on the Maori jumper, we carry the people with us – the Maori people, our family and our friends.”
At 101kg, Latimer is an intimidating figure on the field, but he speaks to TNT in a gentle, almost-whisper – it could be that it’s early morning and he’s about to hit the training park, or more likely that he just prefers to do his talking on the field. It’s a cliché, but that’s the Maori way.
“Being a Maori All Black, it’s not just representing a team,” he says. “It adds a whole other dimension.”
Their opponents – Premiership Rugby giants Leicester Tigers, an RFU Championship side and Canada – are in for tough days at the office. Latimer says his side’s been preparing like any Test team would, maybe with a greater sense of unity. “I know most of the boys,” he says. “I either played with or against them throughout the years. But it’s great to be playing with them in a team like this. We’re all from different tribes but we’re together here. For one cause we live and for this cause we’re a team on tour together.”
The Bay of Plenty product says they’re here to win games, but also entertain crowds. Maori teams are renowned for their open style of play. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re not taking this tour lightly, but we’re coming over to showcase our brand of rugby,” Latimer says. “Hopefully the weather plays ball and allows us to do that. Maybe the opposition has a different idea and don’t allow us to, but we’ll do our best.”
The Maori have chosen their young skipper well, especially if they want free-flowing football. He has experience beyond his age and started out in Sevens.
“I’ve been around for a while,” he says when asked about the leadership challenge, careful not to talk himself up. “I’ve been in a professional environment since 2004, so that’s alright, I’m comfortable with that. It’s a complete honour.”