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Wednesday, 24 April 2019 05:56 am

Whakapapa, tikanga, whanau – that’s what Maori rugby is all about

PARTY TIME: Maori rugby will celebrate its 100th Anniversary this year.

PARTY TIME: Maori rugby will celebrate its 100th Anniversary this year. IMAGE: Daily Telegraph.

Maori rugby celebrates its 100th Anniversary this year. LEE STACE looks at what our national game means to Maori and what is being done to grow their participation and raise the profile of the sport.

MORE workshops, training camps and tournaments for Maori rugby players and coaches.

These are initiatives Wellington Maori Rugby is considering to increase Maori involvement in the game, says its deputy chairperson Rick Whatarau (Ngati Kahungunu).

They are looking to work with the New Zealand Rugby Union or local iwi, but plans have not been finalised.

RickWhatarau“Coaching clinics are key, because if we can coach the coaches then we get a better product coming through our players,” says Whatarau (right).

They are also hoping to host a Maori rugby festival, which would be broadcast on Maori Television.

Wellington Maori will play Counties Manukau and Waikato in September.

“I’m trying to find a fourth team, like Tasman or Canterbury,” Whatarau says. “We also want to invite all the guys who use to play for Wellington Maori and have a festival of footy and culture.”

Plans for an annual tournament in Picton involving Tasman and Canterbury are also being discussed, he says.

Of the 10,961 registered players in Wellington last season, 2259 were Maori. Maori representation is particularly strong in the Hutt Valley clubs, with around 50% of players selected for Maori teams drawn from those clubs.

Wellington usually fields four teams – senior men’s, women’s, under-21 and under-18 – at the Te Tini A Maui tournament in Palmerston North in March.

During the August-September representative season, a senior men’s and development teams play.

Maori players selected are usually those overlooked by other representative teams or who did not attend traditional rugby schools.

They tend to include players from lower socio-economic areas or those whose have got into a bit of trouble.

“It provides an opportunity,” says Whatarau. “We put a hand out, but they’ve still got to take the opportunity. They’ve got to say ‘cool, I’m keen’ and then we can help them.”

While their aim is to ensure players push on to achieve higher honours, there are challenges along the way.

In the past, Maori rugby received support from the Wellington Rugby Union, but financial pressures this year have meant it has had to rely on funding from Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry of Maori Development) and help from volunteers.

All Black fullback Cory Jane played for the Wellington Maori rugby team.

All Black fullback Cory Jane played for the Wellington Maori rugby team.

That has brought a change of approach to developing the game.  

Whatarua explains: “The biggest goal for us is building our bank balance up so we have an opportunity to come up with creative initiatives. Being a new group, we are trying to understand what funding is out there, especially from Maori organisations.”

Timing is another big issue, with Maori tournaments and rep seasons often overlapping with summer sports, club pre-season training and college rugby, making it difficult to get players and put together a meaningful programme.
Many Maori don’t want to play for the union’s representative sides or premier teams at club level.

“The typical Maori boy will say ‘Nah, I just want to play’,” says Whatarau. “What we’re trying to do is give them a bit more aspiration to aim higher.

“Our plan is to get them into our environment and try to motivate them with coaching. Then we can work with them individually.”

Helping players connect with their culture is a big aspect of Maori rugby.

Wellington’s Maori teams usually stay on a marae when travelling and are required to perform waiata and haka, and attend hui.

There is a big emphasis on whakapapa, tikanga, te reo and whanau.

Players and coaches keep an eye out for teammates who are struggling at home. 

“For example, last year we had a couple of guys from Naenae, Taita and Stokes Valley who struggled to get a ride to training and we said to them ‘how much do you want to be a part of this? Here’s a team list, ring these guys up and catch a ride’.”

The idea is that by mixing rugby and culture, it helps Maori players become better people, on and off the field. “We’re huge on trying to create more leaders, because we need more Maori standing up in society and saying ‘follow me’.

“It makes them make decisions, gives them life skills and teaches them about personal responsibility and the consequences of their actions.”

BuckShelfordFormer All Black and New Zealand Maori captain Wayne “Buck” Shelford (Ngapuhi) says tournaments are unique due to strong tribal rivalries.

Shelford (left) says players who do not know a lot about their heritage are encouraged to learn waiata and haka.

“The kaumatua teaches them tikanga – the protocols they would have never have learnt otherwise, as many of our Maori are now growing up in the cities and don’t get that.

“The learning curve and growth they get out of that, the researching of their whakapapa and getting to know where they came from is instrumental in growing good people.”

Maori teams are renowned for playing an unorthodox style of attacking rugby.

Shelford believes playing for the New Zealand Maori team is special because it means representing all the tribes of New Zealand and showing you can compete against “the best in the world”.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re Ngai Tahu or Ngapuhi, you’re our All Blacks and we will support you to the end.

“As long as our boys on the field have made everyone proud, it’s all we can ask.”

Shelford jokes that rugby also serves another purpose to Maori. “If you look back [to] our tipuna’s time, they intermarried to keep the peace. Rugby keeps the peace – until they play against each other.”

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is a graduate from Whitireia Journalism School. He is as well rounded as a beachball, with his interests including rugby, sport, politics, business, tertiary education, social issues, sticking up for the little guy, investigative journalism, cooking, music, shooting the breeze, telling jokes and having a laugh. After a short stint as a general news hound at the Kapiti Observer, he now works for Rugby News in Auckland.
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  1. I’m dissappointed with maori rugby union.
    my father served maori rugby for 20 odd years, coaching thames valley, waikato and bay of plenty maoris , not to mention being on nz maori advisory, not even a flower at his Tangi.
    My father,s unvieling is being held this saturday at TUTEREINGA MARAE on TANGITU RD in TE PUNA, at 11am.
    there will be a POWHIRI at 9am.
    His name was DOUGLAS ROY PETLEY (doug, dougie).

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