Members of the Ireland squad, including team captain Brian O’Driscoll, took part in an autograph session at their training facility in Rotorua on Monday, meeting and greeting fans both young and old.
Brian O’Driscoll, Tommy Bowe, Tomas O’Leary, Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble and Gordon D’Arcy were on hand to chat to fans, sign autographs and pose for photographs at a specially arranged meet and greet session.
The Ireland players took time out from their training schedule to pass on rugby tips and put smiles on faces, ahead of Friday’s tour match against New Zealand Maori at Rotorua International Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm local time/8.35am Irish time).
Click here to view photos from Monday’s training session and the players’ time with some young autograph hunters.
Friday’s uncapped game is historic for a couple of reasons. It is the first ever senior meeting between the Maoris and Ireland, and is part of New Zealand Maori rugby’s centenary celebrations.
It comes within weeks of the 100th anniversary of the first ever match involving an official New Zealand Maori team. That side played a Rotorua sub-union team on May 21, 1910, winning on a 25-5 scoreline.
The idea of a wholly Maori side was first mooted in the 1880s, resulting in the formation of the New Zealand Natives, whose famous 1888 tour was to have a tremendous impact on New Zealand rugby.
Since their debut in 1910, the New Zealand Maori team has played almost every provincial side in New Zealand as well as numerous national sides and has toured extensively overseas.
The team has a proud record which includes victories in the professional era over England, Argentina, Scotland and Fiji, and an historic 19-13 win over a 2005 British & Irish Lions outfit that had Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Paul O’Connell, Shane Byrne, Simon Easterby, Ronan O’Gara and Shane Horgan in the matchday squad.
The Maoris also played Ireland ‘A’ at the 2006 and 2007 Churchill Cup tournaments, claiming 27-6 and 50-22 victories respectively.
So too is it appropriate that the first game between New Zealand Maori and Ireland should be held in Rotorua. The Bay of Plenty region has long been regarded as the home of Maori rugby in the country.
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union CEO Jeremy Curragh said: “This will be the biggest game hosted by Bay of Plenty since the Lions visited us in 2005.
“We hope the Bay of Plenty public get right behind this game as it will be a fantastic occasion.”
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