Skip to main content

The Maori All Blacks play against Canada on Sunday at BMO Field .. Luke Braid, loose forward for the Maori All Blacks, performs drills during practice at Trinity College Sports Field at the University of Toronto.

Philip Cheung

Anyone painting Sunday's rugby match at BMO Field between Canada and the Maori All Blacks of New Zealand as a friendly will be doing a disservice to the visitors' culture and history.

Between tribal wars and struggles with what the Maori term the pakeha (New Zealanders of European origin), the Maori have long prided themselves on their warrior-like mentality, and though the battlefield has now been replaced with a lush green playing surface, their appetite for competition has hardly been sated. Even in rugby-crazed New Zealand, the Maori, who make up 15.4 per cent of the country's population, enjoy the sport of rugby with almost unparalleled passion.

"I think it's mainly because it's not only a physical, but it's also a very skillful game and, of course, Maori come from a background of being warriors and its physicality is something that suits them," former Maori coach and player Jim Love says. "But more importantly it's something that also gives them a lot of mana [pride, status], especially with their families."

Story continues below advertisement

Family and togetherness play a vital part in the Maori way of life and their culture, which is "very collective, very tribal," according to former Maori coach Matt Te Pou, who won 35 of his 40 games in charge, including a famous 19-13 upset of the British & Irish Lions in 2005.

And Love, who helped found the world's only full-time, dedicated rugby academy in 1999 in Rotorua, says that that group mentality plays a large role in why so many Maori eschew individual sports, such as golf, in favour of the oval-ball game, with 23 per cent of 150,000 registered players in New Zealand claiming Maori heritage.

"Rugby is all about whanau [family] … and when we talk about family we come together always, we feel strong; we feel safe when we're in numbers and that's why a lot of Maori play team sports," Love says. "We don't like individual games because we like to be around our friends and we like to work together as a unit, and it's part of our background."

The background of the current crop of Maori players is no less family-oriented, in some cases enjoying long lines of New Zealand rugby heritage. Flanker Luke Braid, of the Ngati Tumutumu tribe, could make his Maori debut on Sunday and is excited at the prospect of carrying on his family's proud tradition in the sport at international level, with both his father and brother having played for the All Blacks.

"I've never worn the All Black jersey," he says, "but I think the Maori jersey is pretty personal because you're representing your iwi, or your tribe."

However, teammate Zac Guildford, who like Braid has also yet to play for the Maori All Blacks, has achieved the ultimate in New Zealand rugby, knowing full well the pride that comes with pulling on the famed All Black jersey having played in 10 Tests as a full New Zealand international. Guildford was also part of the Rugby World Cup-winning squad in 2011, scoring four tries in the All Blacks' final group game, a 79-15 demolition of Canada, which also turned out to be his only contest in the tournament, as he was injured in the very next training session.

Still, given the pressure on New Zealand to win in front of its home fans and end a 24-year World Cup victory drought, Guildford was just happy to be a part of such a historic occasion.

Story continues below advertisement

"We sort of had the chokers [tag] on us," he said of years of being prohibitive favourites, "… and I think if we didn't win it I probably wouldn't be showing my face around."

Though he expects a completely different contest against Canada on Sunday than the last time he played them, given that New Zealanders are to rugby as Brazilians are to soccer and Canadians are to hockey, Guildford says the onus is on him and his teammates to play an expansive game of rugby and showcase the sport to an emerging market.

"I guess the rest of the world look up to us in terms of how we play rugby and the style we play and we are world champions," he says. "But it would be great to show Canada and the rest of the world a great brand of rugby and that's what we aim to do, but I think the main thing is that we're here to win."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter