Philly Sports Live

Paint It, Black: Pregaming USA v NZ Maori All-Blacks

Two of Rugby’s most powerful traits are tradition and growth.  The tradition comes from nearly two centuries of excellence and history that has spread to all corners of the world.  Growth has come from the emergence of the sport in nations whose programs are trying to wedge their way onto the world scene, all while fostering popularity as one of the world’s most popular games.

On Friday night, those two traits will clash on the banks of the Delaware in a clash of what Rugby is and what it might be.

USA Eagles v New Zealand Maori All Blacks

PPL Park, Chester, Pennsylvania

Saturday, November 9th, 7pm EST

TV (Tape Delay): Fox Sports 1, Sunday, November 10th at 1pm

The two sides that will meet in Chester are coming in with different views of the match.  For the Maori, it’s a chance to live out a dream and represent their indigenous people, not to mention their country, and be a part of one of the oldest traditions of the sport.  It’s also a chance to do so in a locale that they don’t normally travel to.  As for the Eagles, they will look to impress coach Mike Tolkin as they head down the road towards the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.

Earning Their Wings. The Americans head into the game still looking for their first win this calendar year.  They went 0-5 during the Pacific Nations Cup, and then fell twice to Canada in the opening round of their RWC qualifying campaign.  The linchpin to the success of the team will be their youngsters, including fly-half Toby L’Estrange, and center Seamus Kelly.  Kelly knows PPL Park well; he was a part of the Cal Golden Bears side that won the College Rugby Championship 7s tournament back in June.  Life University’s Cam Dolan, whose squad fell to Kelly’s Bears in the CRC7s final, will brings 7s quickness to the Number Eight position where he will start on Saturday.

Gee, That’s Clever! While the youth movement will important, those youngsters will need to key off their veteran teammates, especially their captain.  Todd Clever, who will move into a tie for 4th all time with 53 caps on Saturday, will look to outrun the speedy Maori backs.  Clever has been a mainstay on the Eagles side since his first appearance in 2003, staring 51 of his previous 52 appearances and has appeared in three World Cups, and is third amongst all Eagles scorers with 11 tries.  He has a deeper team behind him than before, and that will be important as the Eagles head to Georgia and Russia over the next two weeks to end their season.  By then, Coach Tolkin should have an idea as to who will face Uruguay in March for the next round of World Cup Qualifying.

Paint The Town Black. The Maori head to PPL a week after easily defeating a depleted Canadian side 40-15 in Toronto on Sunday.  Five players tallied the six tries in the match for the All-Blacks, and 21-year old Jamison Gibson-Park was the double dipper.  The club is a mix of youngsters and veterans who have represented New Zealand from the youth levels to the Senior All-Blacks.  Of the players that are on this tour for the Maori, 13 are making their debut with the representative side.

Fighting Youth With Youth. Captain Tim Bateman, who played for his four years for his hometown Crusaders of Super Rugby before heading to the Wellington Hurricanes in 2012, will have mostly youth players starting the match with him, including prop Ben Afreaki, who has already earned a cap this year with the senior All Blacks.  Like the young Eagles, there youth players will view this tour as a chance to raise some eyebrows on the All Blacks selection committee as they pick the squad that will defend their 2011 Rugby World Cup championship.  There will be plenty of veterans coming off the bench, however, including Zac Guildford and Chris Smylie, both of whom have played with the top squad.

Haka ‘way. To the surprise of some, all 18,500 seats have been sold for this game.  Many of the folks going, outside of rugby players and the curious, are New Zealand expats from the New York and Washington areas, and there are others that are flying in for the match as well.  Other than the game itself, which many expect to be one-sided, the most anticipated part of the evening is the haka, the Maori war chant that has been a ritual of the aboriginal side, as well as the senior National team since their inceptions.

Below is a compilation of haka from the All Blacks.  As stunning as it is here, it will be an unforgettable sight in person on Saturday.

 I Predict a Riot… er… Rout.  Up until 2011, the US and the Maori All-Blacks would meet as a part of the Churchill Cup.  In their previous two meetings, the Maori have outscored the Eagles 144-38, including a 72-6 win at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, California, in June, 2006.  The younger Maori players have more experience than the rookies from the US.  The youngsters on both sides will have something to prove.  That said, the question will not be whether the Maori will win, but by how much.  I say the US get a difficult try and at least one penalty, while the All-Blacks run roughshod.  Maori All Blacks 56, USA Eagles 10.

Photo: Kiwi Club of NY Website