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Latimer was 17 when he first represented New Zealand in Sevens in 2004 and won a gold medal at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games. Sevens will be an Olympic sport in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. “That’s exciting for rugby,” he says, without a hint of temptation – he’s doing just fine in the premium form of the game. His Waikato-based Chiefs were last year’s Super 15 champions after finishing 10th and 11th the previous two seasons. He speaks as though the turnaround was simple. “We got a new training facility, a few new players, new coaches,” he says. “There was a bit of a change in ideas and the boys just got stuck into their work and responded well to it all. And yeah, we got the rewards.”

Lats, as he’s known, is also eyeing off a return to the All Blacks jersey, but is in the unfortunate position of playing the same openside flanker role as a certain Richie McCaw.

“I have ambitions for that,” he admits. “But you’ve just got to be there or thereabouts. You’ve got to play some quality rugby and keep doing your job whenever you go on the field. Keep your head down and keep trucking on.”

But for now, his mind is on going into battle with his Maori brothers, who have been connecting on and off the field in their brief camp in Auckland and since they got to the UK last week. Their arrival at Heathrow was a sign of things to come, with fans welcoming them with a haka. “We’ve been working well in the training we’ve had together and we’ve been learning some hakas,” he says.

“We’ve picked up a few songs that some of the boys have never heard and they love it, hey.”

Coach Jamie Joseph says bonding is more important than training for the team, as their short time together doesn’t allow proper tactical preparation. “The best thing we can do to come together is through our Maoritanga,” he says. “That’s what’s unique about this team. There’ll be a lot of singing, a few hakas and not much training.”

With sing-alongs filling their flight from Auckland, they’ve also prepared a unique haka for their tour matches. While it’ll look like a fearsome battle cry – and is, in a sense – the meaning of the movement, stamping and rhythmic, tuneful chanting goes deeper. “There’s always a message in a haka, but the actions and how you deliver it are just as important,” Latimer says. The haka his team has planned will be intimidating, but the message written by the team’s kaumatua (tribal elder) Te Whetu Tipiwai is anything but angry. “The main message translates to ‘reach for the stars and you shall hit the mountains’, that is basically the gist,” Latimer says. “There are other messages and the big actions are important. You make them hit the mark and make them scary. Then you are ready to give your all.”


All for Maori: Tanerau Latimer is proud to captain the Maori All Blacks during British tour
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