Ahead of their game against the British & Irish Lions this weekend, the Māori All Blacks have become the latest team to reveal a special Adidas tour edition jersey – and as is the way with the Māori of late, once again it’s a striking and detailed design.
Recent Māori All Blacks jerseys have told incredibly detailed stories related to the fixtures the jersey will be worn in, but this time the theme is a little bit more outside the box.
Once again, the new Māori jersey has been created by Luke Crawford, the Kaumātua (Māori elder) for New Zealand Rugby, and renowned Māori artist, Dave Burke. The pair have worked together on various projects for the NZRU and Adidas in the past few years – including previous Māori jerseys, and recent Chiefs designs.
This time, the pair have used this jersey to honour someone with close ties to both designers, creating an homage to the greatly respected leader of the Te Arawa people, Mita Hikairo Mohi, whose school is located in Rotarua, where the Māori will take on the Lions.
Mohi, who died in 2016, uniquely straddled the worlds of New Zealand rugby and Māori culture. Mohi played rugby league in the 60s and 70s for Canterbury and New Zealand (his solitary international cap ended in bizarre faction when he injured himself doing the haka before the match against France in 1972).
In addition to coaching, pro wrestling and Māori tennis, Mohi is most famous for setting up Mokoia taiaha wānanga: a school that teaches Mau rākau – a martial art that teaches the use of traditional Māori weapon, the taiaha.
Since then, thousands of young New Zealanders have been taught this traditional aspect of Māori culture at the Wananga schools of learning on Lake Rotorua’s Mokoia Island, including, as it happens, both Crawford an Burke – this jersey is a tribute to his unique contribution to Māori culture from his former pupils.
The front of the shirt depicts a bold and striking warrior stance, which as well as seeking to intimidate the opposition, also “connects the wearer to the spiritual realm, reminding them that they are not walking alone” according to Crawford.
On the back of the jersey is a taiaha with a four-eyed head, and again according to Crawford there’s a spiritual element to this as well, “With four eyes looking in all directions, the taiaha offers spiritual protection to the players, providing a watchful eye over the wearer at all times,” he says.
A more direct nod to Mohi and his impact on Māori culture can be found on the sides of the shirt, with intricately decorated spear-shaped fighting sticks represent his commitment to mau taiaha.
The final flourish can be found on the sleeves, where the swirling pattern on the sleeves again has a deep significance.
“The intricately patterned arms represent whakapapa and connectedness to each player’s whānau and iwi,” says Crawford. “We have a responsibility to our family, our people and to New Zealand every time we take to the field, and we will wear this jersey with pride and strength in our hearts, knowing that we are representing them every time we do so.”
The Māori All Blacks jerseys are always a little bit special, but this one feels even more so than usual – this is the first time another senior 15s team has utilised the adaptive collar design first introduced for the All Blacks last year, and they’ve blended it with some subtle tonal shoulder stripes for the first time.
This shirt is a fitting tribute to Mohi, and definitely adds a local touch to the Māori All Blacks’ historic game against the Lions – we’ll find out if it brings them luck on Saturday.