Maori team gets All Black boost
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: New Zealand Maori coach Colin Cooper has named four current All Blacks in his side for Friday's tour opener against the United States.
The encounter in Chicago is part of an historic 'double-header'.
Following Friday's Maori versus US Eagles encounter, the All Blacks face Ireland in the same city on Saturday.
The four members of the All Black touring squad - Elliot Dixon, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Rieko Ioane and Damian McKenzie – played for the Maori team last year.
Their re-entry into the Maori side also means a family reunion for brothers Akira and Rieko Ioane, as well as Marty and Damian McKenzie.
"These guys are all familiar with our environment, so we know that they are able to move between the All Blacks and our squad with great ease," Cooper said.
"The Maori squad is another home for those guys.
"This is the most experienced squad we've had for a while, and many of the players who played for us last year have stepped up a level from there.
"It means that we have a really experienced playing 23, with only three new caps, starting with Kara Pryor who had a very good season with the Blues and then carried that into the NPC. He was close to being named in the squad last year but was injured so it's good to be able to give him a start.
"The other two, Marcel Renata and Leighton Price, will come off the bench this Friday; they played well in the NPC and it's good to be able to give them a chance to earn a cap for this team.
"Ash Dixon takes on the captaincy duties this year, but really he's been part of the set up for a while.
"He has experience as a leader on the field, and with former captain Tim Bateman back in the mix, I know that the team will have some really solid decision makers on the field," the coach added.
The preparation time in Chicago has been good and they were clear about their game plan.
"The main focus will be on playing our game and making sure we give the US due respect.
"We've have had a look at them and they have a big raw game, a big pack and we will need to play with some structure. We will want to have a good focus on attack and defend with a lot of go forward."
New Zealand Maori: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Rieko Ioane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Akira Ioane Ngapuhi, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jacob Skeen, 3 Ben May, 2 Ash Dixon (captain), 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Joe Royal, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Leighton Price, 20 Shane Christie, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Sean Wainui Ngai Tuhoe.
Date: Friday, November 4
Venue: Toyota Park, Chicago
Kick-off: 19.00 (13.00, Saturday, November 5 NZ time; 00.00 (midnight) Saturday, November 5 GMT)