Maori secure famous victory
June 18, 2010
Hosea Gear bagged the Maori's first in Rotorua
© Getty Images
The New Zealand Maori added another scalp to their list of high-profile victims by defeating Ireland 31-28 at Rotorua International Stadium.
Ireland, still smarting after their 66-28 hammering at the hands of New Zealand last weekend, fought for all they were worth in a thrilling game but the Maori had the spirit to close out the result as they celebrate their centenary.
Wellington wing Hosea Gear and Chiefs utility Dwayne Sweeney scored early tries as the Maori powered into an 18-3 lead but, as it proved to be for the rest of the night, Ireland's Jonathan Sexton pegged them back with seven shots from the kicking tee and the conversion to centre Paddy Wallace's second-half try.
Sexton was superb all evening but missed a crucial late kick which could have secured a draw after Karl Lowe had rounded off a stunning length of the field try to put the Maori in control in the closing stages. Sexton, Wallace and skipper Geordan Murphy all enhanced their claims for Test spots against Australia in Brisbane next weekend, while the back-row of Niall Ronan, Under-20 skipper Rhys Ruddock and Chris Henry stood up well to examination as they look to replace the suspended Jamie Heaslip and injured John Muldoon.
Next up for the Maori is a shot at England on Wednesday, when they will look to add Martin Johnson's side to their growing list of upsets, which now includes Ireland as well as Australia, France and the 2005 British & Irish Lions.
Luke McAlister knocked over the opening points after only a minute when Ireland were pinged for offside and the first try was not long in following. Gear, moments after shrugging off a huge challenge from Shane Horgan, was the scorer but the plaudits went to fullback Robbie Robinson, whose midfield surge splintered the Irish defence and left a simple run-in for his winger.
Ireland probed in response but were soon undone again by more pace and power from the Maori. Fly-half Stephen Brett ended an Irish attack by ripping the ball from his opposite number, Sexton, and from his boot downfield Ireland had little answer in defence. Brett challenge the line at first-receiver and as the opposition crabbed across to plug the gaps, Sweeney waltzed through a huge midfield hole to score under the posts.
McAlister converted before Sexton snatched three back for Ireland after their first meaningful possession. As was the way of the opening period the tourists coughed up another penalty for McAlister and while thy scrapped hard to make an impact in attack the Maori defence was aggressive and ruthlessly effective.
Having survived another scare as Sean Maitland raced after Brett's kick through, Sexton slotted his second penalty of the night to take a bite out of the Maori's 15-point lead. As half-time approached Ireland finally came to life, inspired mainly by Sexton's willingness to attack the line and bring his back-row and centres into play through midfield.
The Maori's discipline slipped alarmingly under pressure and two offside calls allowed Sexton to bring Ireland back to within six. The fly-half's excellent game continued as his well-read intercept paved the way for another shot at goal as Tanerau Latimer interfered on the floor and he made no mistake to bring the scores to within three.
Ireland's tails were up though and they continued to press as the whistle approached. Gavin Duffy crashed forward in midfield to good effect and the Maori were unable to keep themselves to themselves, skipper Liam Messam failing to roll away and conceding their lead at the break to Sexton's sixth penalty.
It took only a minute of the second half for Ireland to score their first try. Wallace fired a short ball to his skipper and Murphy accelerated into a gap, returning the pass to Wallace for the centre to slide over the whitewash. Sexton converted from out wide as the Maori looked increasingly ragged. McAlister sensibly opted for goal at the next penalty, kicking his side's first points for some time to arrest the flow of Irish attacks.
The introduction of hard-running Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles added extra impetus for the Maori and one of his surges set Sweeney into space. The Chiefs man drew another penalty, but McAlister pushed his shot wide, having missed an ambitious effort from halfway moments earlier.
There was no mistake made soon after as the Maori scored the try of the game, sparked by a stunning break from Maitland from deep in his own territory. The Canterbury wing carved through the Irish defence and when the support finally arrived the ball was shipped wide to Gear, whose injection of pace along the flank opened up the simplest over overlaps for Hurricanes flanker Lowe to power over out wide. Replacement fly-half Willie Ripia slotted the conversion after taking the reins from McAlister.
A contentious penalty handed Sexton a long-range effort to draw the scores level and he obliged from half-way. A rash mistake from the pivot, smashing a long kick out on the full, gave the Maori field position to mount a late attack however, and Ronan conceded a penalty bang in front to gift the lead to Ripia and the Maori.
The lead should have lasted all of 30 seconds as Colin Bourke and Messam obstructed Donncha O'Callaghan at the kick-off but Sexton failed to knock over a simple kick to level the scores. The Maori dug deep in the closing minutes, fending off Irish attacks before booting the ball from the field to spark their celebrations.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter