Cape Town - New Zealand Rugby announced on Tuesday that the Maori All Blacks will take on Fiji in a home and away two-match series later this year.
The Flying Fijians will have first home-advantage when the Maori All Blacks - assembling for the first time since their Americas end of year tour last year - head to Suva, Fiji, for their season opening match on Saturday, July 13.
Both teams head to Rotorua, New Zealand where one team will look to even the ledger as the two teams face off again at Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday, July 20.
New Zealand Rugby Board chairperson Farah Palmer said the two-match series was a great opportunity for both Maori and Fijian fans to celebrate their identities and great rugby.
“This is truly exciting. We know that the Maori All Blacks’ style of rugby is very popular around the world, and the team are often-sought ambassadors for the game,” she told the All Blacks’ official website.
“Pitting the Maori All Blacks against a Flying Fijian side on a mission for Rugby World Cup 2019, and with passionate supporters behind both teams, will be the perfect formula to create an epic encounter.
“Here, we have two teams that play an exciting and attractive style of rugby. The Maori All Blacks have had some classic matches here in the past and we know they have a huge support base in Rotorua.”
Palmer acknowledged the efforts of Bay of Plenty Rugby and Rotorua Lakes Council whose joint bid made it very difficult to look anywhere else to host the second match.
“They are really embracing this opportunity to make the celebration of Maori and Pasifika rugby stretch over a whole week of activities,” she added.
Fiji Rugby Chief Executive John O’Connor said: “I’m delighted to say that the Flying Fijians have been given such a great opportunity to play two Tests against the Maori All Blacks on July 13 and 20. It is indeed a timely boost for the Flying Fijians as we will prepare for the Rugby World Cup in Japan later in the year.
“Fiji Rugby is looking forward to hosting the Maori All Black here on July 13 at ANZ Stadium in Suva. It will be an ideal opportunity for fans to come in numbers and witness not only the Flying Fijians, but also a powerful Maori All Blacks side.
“We are on track with our preparations and no doubt the Maori All Blacks visit will be a memorable one for the team itself and the fans here.”
Bay of Plenty Rugby chief executive Mike Rogers says the Maori All Blacks have a rich rugby history beginning with their first match played in the city more than 100 years.
“It’s also a significant occasion for home town hero and Maori All Blacks head coach Clayton McMillan, it will be the first time the team has played in his home town under his tutelage,” he said.
“We are excited to host both teams - and while we know the Fijians are fiercely loyal - and vocal - supporters of their team - the Maori All Blacks is a very special team for us and this is a unique opportunity to watch them play at home.”
Home-grown Maori All Blacks head coach McMillan said the Maori All Blacks had long wanted to play strong international sides.
“Fiji recorded that historical win against France during their end of year tour, and so they come into this year in impressive form,” he said.
“I think they will be a great challenge for us playing in their back yard, and here in Rotorua, a place that is very special to me.
“For us, there’s a sense of unfinished business as we probably left our rugby public less than satisfied after our last home game against the British and Irish Lions in 2017. I know we’d certainly like to make that up to Maori All Blacks supporters.”
A Fijian U20 side and a New Zealand Maori U20 side will be the curtain raiser.