Maori skipper focused on Lions

New Zealand Maori skipper Jono Gibbes is looking no further ahead than Saturday's game against the British & Irish Lions. [more]

Lions Australia Tour 2013

New Zealand Maori skipper Jono Gibbes is looking no further ahead than Saturday’s game against the British & Irish Lions.

Gibbes is one of a handful of players that All Blacks coaches Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen will have their eyes on before naming the 26-man squad on Sunday for the three-Test series against the tourists.

With the trial having taken place last weekend and New Zealand facing Fiji on Friday it will be the last chance Gibbes, Marty Holah, Leon MacDonald, Rico Gear, Carl Hayman and Corey Flynn will have to impress Henry and co.

The situation arises because Maori coach Matt Te Pou was given first call on All Blacks players and contenders for their Lions encounter.

But Gibbes, who has seven Test caps, refuses to dwell on his All Blacks chances.

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"You’d be foolish to think past this Saturday," he said. "That’s how I feel about it. This is my only guaranteed Lions game."

Gibbes passed a fitness test on his injured left foot on Thursday and will be a key element for the Maori.

He is a respected figure on and off the pitch, comfortable at blindside flanker or lock, and well able to handle the pressure of captaincy as is evident by his time as skipper of his province Waikato and his Super 12 franchise, the Chiefs.

And he has made it clear to his players that Saturday’s match is not just about them but also about the rich heritage of Maori rugby.

"It’s important you acknowledge what has gone before," he told the New Zealand Herald.

"The fact we are playing the Lions is a credit to the Maori players who have gone before us.

"The Lions got to pick their itinerary and they felt we were worthy opponents."

The Maori have never beaten the Lions in seven previous attempts and with nine past or present All Blacks in the starting XV and three more on the bench, including Carlos Spencer who leaves New Zealand rugby for Northampton Saints after the match, there is a good feeling about their chances.

But Gibbes is not getting carried away by the hype.

"All it means is you’ve got a few more tools in the toolbox," he added.

The match will also be Te Pou’s final game in charge, increasing the determination to add the Lions’ scalp to those of Australia, France and England.

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