'Grumpy' Johnson rues second half slip
June 23, 2010
Maori captain Liam Messam stretches to score © Getty Images
England coach Martin Johnson admitted it rankled with him to see his side slip to a 35-28 defeat to the New Zealand Maori in Napier on Wednesday.
The tourists twice let a comfortable lead slip having raced into a 13-0 lead with an early try from Steffon Armitage and then recovered from two blistering Maori scores to lead 28-17 at the interval.
But England failed to add to the tries Danny Care and Chris Ashton scored late in the first half and were pointless in the second half as the Maori took control with wing Hosea Gear completing a hat-trick of tries.
"It rankles losing that game because there was a definite chance to win it," said Johnson. "I am a bit grumpy. We said international rugby is brutal and at times people didn't do their jobs well enough in the second half for us to be able to win.
"I think it is (a harsh lesson). We were upbeat at half-time. We knew what we had to do - but we then had to go and do it. We lost our way a bit, we lost our composure slightly, forced a few things and defensively we were poor at the start of the second half.
"If you don't handle their powerful runners you get what we got, which is a couple of tries conceded and a good lead lost. I should be more upbeat about the whole tour but it annoys me to chuck away the game."
England arrived in Napier on the back of a drawn Test series with Australia and an unbeaten midweek record, following a draw and a win against the Australian Barbarians.
"On the whole, this tour and this (midweek) side have been fantastic," added Johnson. "There was some scepticism what value we would get out of fit. The experience has been great for the whole team.
"Lots of guys have really come through, lots of guys have really stood up and will benefit hugely from the experience of playing. Players will have played themselves into the (senior squad to be announced in July) and there will be some learning points for some players to take away and be aware of.
"That is what we came for - to play at a high level so we could find these things out. I was getting asked by players why they aren't starting - they should worry about being good enough."
Danny Care, who scored England's second try from a quick tap penalty, said he was furious when Gear raced through a huge gap in the defensive line.
"It was frantic. They have some fantastic players, the likes of Luke McAlister and Hosea Gear on the wing," said Care. "We came wanting to play and so did they. It was a great game to watch but frustrating for us we didn't come out on the right side of it.
"We got those two tries late in the first half which got us a good platform. We said at half-time we needed to lay a marker and get the next score but we didn't.
"The most frustrating bit was the first 10 minutes of the second half when we threw it away."
Former Sale Sharks centre Luke McAlister, who enhanced his All Black credentials, said it was a special victory for a side celebrating its centenary.
"It is a huge win," said McAlister. "We put a lot of preparation in and the result is not just huge for us but for everyone who has worn the jersey before us and the Maori people of New Zealand."
Maori coach Jamie Joseph said he was surprised by England's expansive style of play when the pre-match talk had been about the power of their pack.
"It sort of surprised me because they scored some tries," said Joseph. "I honestly thought after the haka we were a bit anxious, a bit overawed and it looked like the guys froze for a split second.
"When they scored their first try it woke us up. They really wanted to do it for themselves and that showed in the last 10 minutes, there was no sense of giving in. Everyone would agree it was a positive game of football and probably one of the best in terms of hits and pressure. Those are all the ingredients that make good rugby games.
"For that reason I am really proud of the team and they have shown they can perform on that stage if given the opportunity. There were some real contenders tonight for All Blacks selection. Hosea Gear and Luke McAlister had very fine games.
"Gear is probably one of the best finishers in the game at present. Any opportunity he gets he takes."