11/02/2013 04:02 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Canada looks to make the most of rugby showcase against Maori All Blacks

TORONTO - Outside of the World Cup, there may not be a better showcase for Canadian rugby than Sunday's game against the touring Maori All Blacks.

The expected sellout at BMO Field is to be shown live in Canada and New Zealand, with viewers outside those countries able to watch it live on the International Rugby Board's website (

While there are no trophies to be won Sunday, there is plenty on the line.

For the invitational Kiwi side, it is an opportunity to honour their Maori heritage while demonstrating they deserve to move up the New Zealand rugby ladder.

For the Canadian players, some of whom are still chasing a pro contact, it's a chance to show off their skills against elite opposition. And for the sport's administrators here, it is a rare opportunity to display the appeal of the game to spectators and sponsors alike.

"It's a game we have a responsibility to perform in because so many people are watching," Canadian coach Kieran Crowley, a former New Zealand international, said after training Saturday.

"We need to have a good performances at home to help the profile of the sport here and get more people involved and sponsors can see it's a good product. All that sort of stuff.

"So there's lots of responsibility on our guys to deliver that. We've just got to be careful that we don't put all that pressure on them and inhibit their play. But yeah, I think it's a massive game for Canada in terms of all those things."

Because of injuries, personal commitments and the fact that the match falls outside the IRB's international window, Canada will have to face up without such key players as Jebb Sinclair, Jamie Cudmore, James Pritchard, Phil Mackenzie and DTH van Der Merwe.

Another half-dozen players are also missing. Crowley has had to assemble a forward pack missing four of his top second-rowers.

He will get some of that talent back for the upcoming tour of Europe. The 14th-ranked Canadians leave Monday for test matches against No. 16 Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday, No. 17 Romania in Bucharest on Nov. 16 and No. 22 Portugal in Lisbon on Nov. 23.

The Maori head to Philadelphia to play the 18th-ranked U.S. Eagles on Saturday.

The Maori All Blacks, formerly known as the New Zealand Maori, are not to be confused with the New Zealand national team known as the All Blacks.

The world No. 1 All Blacks opened their November tour in Tokyo on Saturday with a 54-6 win over No. 15 Japan. Tests against No. 3 England, No. 5 France and No. 8 Ireland are next.

The Maori starting 15 features five All Blacks in scrum half Piri Weepu (71 caps), winger Zac Guildford (19), prop Ben Afeaki (1), hooker Hikawera Elliot (3) and lock Jarrad Hoeata (3).

You can count the number of training sessions they have had on one hand and still have a few fingers free. But the lineup is rife with class outside of the All Blacks in the lineup.

Captain Tim Bateman, who will start at fly half, is a silky smooth back who plays Super Rugby for the Wellington Hurricanes. Flanker Luke Braid, captain of the Auckland Blues, is a former IRB Junior Player of the Year.

No. 8 Elliot Dixon, fullback Robbie Robinson and Guilford were members of the Baby Blacks team that won the IRB Junior World Championship in 2009. Maori reserves Blade Thomson and Charlie Ngatai helped defend that title in 2010.

Crowley can provide commentary on every member of the Maori lineup, including the reserves.

The former All Blacks fullback points to Jamison Gibson-Park, Ihaia West and Matt Proctor as danger men off the bench.

"I'm expecting that they'll throw the ball around a little bit," Crowley said.

The Canadians are taking the match so seriously that they opted not to reveal their starting lineup until Saturday midnight

Since 1996, the Maori have only lost three matches against international sides with the last international defeat coming against England in 2003.

Canada has never beaten the Maori, losing 32-19 in their last meeting a year ago.

New Zealand rugby is using the Maori side to scout new talent and see if veterans can regain their form.

Weepu, for example, is looking to climb back the All Blacks' halfback ladder.

Guildford is battling both a lineup of rival wingers and his own past. He has a history of misbehaviour that includes a suspension after arriving drunk, naked and bleeding at a bar in the Cook Islands while there for a friend's wedding in 2011.

"From top to bottom, the Maori's roster features a strong mix of the past, present and future for New Zealand rugby," says the All Blacks' official website.


Maori All Blacks

Kane Hames, Hikawera Elliot, Ben Afeaki, Jarrad Hoeata, Joe Wheeler, Liam Squire, Luke Braid, Elliot Dixon, Piri Weepu, Tim Bateman (capt.), Zac Guildford, Jackson Willison, Charlie Ngatai, Andre Taylor, Robbie Robinson.


Chris Eves, Nick Barrett, Ash Dixon, Blade Thomson, Shane Christie, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ihaia West, Matt Proctor.