Maori stun England for famous win
June 23, 2010
New Zealand Maori celebrate a famous victory in Napier
© Getty Images
New Zealand Maori completed their centenary season with a stunning 35-28 victory over England in a thrilling clash at McLean Park in Napier.
A hat-trick from winger Hosea Gear and another try from captain Liam Messam carried the hosts to a famous win with centre Luke McAlister delivering a pivotal performance in midfield. Tries from flanker Steffon Armitage, scrum-half Danny Care and winger Chris Ashton had put England ahead at the break with fly-half Charlie Hodgson weighing in with 13 points but they were kept scoreless in the second period by a determined Maori side and not even the introduction of a host of front line stars could prevent a disappointing end to an otherwise impressive tour.
England's second string entered the game looking to extend their unbeaten run having drawn with the Australian Barbarians in their first outing before beating the same opposition last week. The game also offered Martin Johnson's charges the chance to build on the Test side's historic win against the Wallabies and Ashton was one of several members of that team thrown into action again while No.8 Phil Dawson and centre Brad Barritt were handed the chance to impress having joined the tour late as replacements. Flanker Karl Lowe was rewarded with a starting spot for the Maori after scoring a try in Friday's historic win over Ireland in Rotorua, while prop Clint Newland was promoted from the bench.
The visitors began brightly and an early line break from centre Brad Barritt had the Maori on the back foot before fullback Delon Armitage added some further pace to an attack that resulted in Hodgson's first penalty of the game. The Sale No.10 then took advantage of a flat Maori defence with a chip through that Ashton then hacked on down the touchline and Steffon Armitage had the pace to reach the ball and claim the try. Hodgson's conversion took England out to a ten point lead with just five minutes on the clock.
The Maori had little answer to the onslaught and were happy just to clear their lines allowing the tourists to continue to dominate proceedings and Hodgson hammered home his side's advantage with his second penalty. A mistake at the lineout allowed McAlister to stop the rot and get the Maori on the board but another infringement at the breakdown handed Hodgson the chance to extend his points tally - but he blotted his copybook with a miss.
The hosts struck back immediately with a sensational score built on the ambition and adventure of fullback Robbie Robinson. The Southland flyer launched a counter attack from his own line and gobbled up the yards before feeding McAlister and quick ball found Gear who shrugged David Strettle before fending off Mathew Tait on his way to a superb score in the corner. McAlister brought his side back into the contest with an excellent conversion.
Maori fly-half Stephen Brett was the next to cut the England defence open and he was ably supported by his skipper Messam who rode the tackle of Hodgson before stretching for the line to score. McAlister ensured another maximum with the conversion from outwide to turn the game on its head midway through the half.
It was then England's turn to favour the territorial game and their subsequent efforts to keep it tight took them inside the Maori 22 but their commitment to moving the ball quickly led to handling errors and a turnover. The hosts rallied once more but this time Gear could only knock on a grubber kick from Brett that had opened up the England defence. A penalty against Steffon Armitage at the breakdown then offered McAlister the chance to edge his side further ahead but he pushed his latest attempt wide of the posts. England 's response was a simple penalty from Hodgson after his pack had scored a minor victory at scrum time in the shadow of the Maori posts.
England's dominance at the scrum allowed Hodgson to turn the screw with a penalty that took the game back to the Maori 22 and another blast of the referee's whistle saw Care opt for the quick tap and his acceleration carried him over for a try. Hodgson landed the extras to put England back in control of the game as the half drew to a close. The score did little to diminish the Maoris' adventure but a loose pass was picked off by Hodgson who sped up field before feeding the fleet-footed Ashton for another excellent try. Hodgson failed with the conversion attempt with the last kick of a highly-entertaining half.
There was no let-up following the re-start half with Gear pouncing on a lapse in the England defence to grab his second try. McAlister softened up the visitors with a strong run up the middle before it was worked wide to Gear who came off his wing to exploit a gaping hole in the England line. McAlister stroked over the extras to give his side a perfect start to the second half and it would soon get better for his side.
The hungry Maori forwards soon conjured another turnover that proved equally costly for England. Messam surged into the heart of the England defence before a superb long pass from lock Hayden Triggs found Gear in space who was able to coast over for his third try of the game. McAlister could not land the conversion but the Maori had reclaimed the lead and would maintain that momentum for the remainder of the game.
McAlister continued to torment the England defence whose desperate scrambling snuffed out a dangerous attack before Ashton was called on to use his pace to deny the Maori another scoring opportunity. A speculative long-range penalty from Delon Armitage then failed to find its target and a drop goal attempt from replacement Willlie Ripia was also wide before a penalty against England captain Chris Robshaw gifted the Maori three more points. Strettle was the next to be penalised after he failed to release the ball for a quick lineout and McAlister slotted the simple kick to put his side on the brink.
A penalty gave England the chance to lay the platform for a much-needed try but Geraghty kicked the ball dead in his attempt to find the corner in what proved to be a costly error. Replacement Ben Foden produced a sparkling break to cut the Maori open as the game reached a dramatic conclusion but he was also guilty of putting too much on his kick and the ball and England's chances sailed into touch.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
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