New Zealand Maori completed an impressive 35-28 victory over England at McLean Park in what was a thrilling contest on Wednesday.
New Zealand Maori completed a fine 35-28 victory over England at McLean Park in what was a fascinating contest that had it all on Wednesday.
Defeat is seasoned with plenty of encouragement for England though, who showed enough in attack to shed the shackles that have restrained them for so long. They were attack-minded, had ideas and importantly refused to slip back into the style of just limiting their rivals before feeding off scraps.
But that mindset could not halt the Maori in what was an awesome game at McLean Park, with Hosea Gear stealing the show with a hat-trick.
The positive result for the hosts means they have now beaten the New Zealand Barbarians, Ireland and now the English in a memorable 100th year.
England had arrived in Napier on a high after their famous 21-20 win over Australia in Sydney sealed a 1-1 Test series draw with the Wallabies.
And Team Manager Martin Johnson had branded this clash as the unofficial third Test, with England making a fast start that was led by Delon Armitage.
The tourists' early dominance was ultimately rewarded with a Hodgson penalty and then a try from Steffon Armitage as the English surged ahead.
Impressive fly-half Charlie Hodgson then stabbed a grubber kick in behind the Maori defensive line and Chris Ashton showed brilliant footballing skills to flick the ball back in play with his right foot just before it landed in touch. Armitage was already on the charge and the London Irish flanker dived on the loose ball to give England a 10-0 lead, with Hodgson landing the touchline conversion.
Hodgson slotted a second penalty as England succeeded where they had failed against the Australian Barbarians, by turning early pressure into points.
But the Maori then turned the tables spectacularly with two brilliant counter-attacking tries.
Luke McAlister got the Maori onto the scoreboard with a penalty but Hodgson wasted the chance of an immediate response by hitting the post.
Maori full-back Robbie Robinson countered from the rebound and quickly left England's defence in disarray before fly-half Stephen Brett released Gear, who swatted David Strettle and Mathew Tait aside to score.
Maori scrum-half Aaron Smith then pilfered the ball from the back of an England scrum and launched another incisive break, with Brett drawing in three defenders before releasing Messam.
Hodgson tracked back to make the tackle but the Sale fly-half could not drag Messam into touch. The try was given and McAlister's conversion edged the Maori into a 17-13 lead.
There was no let-up to the breathtaking start and it needed a vital tackle from Tait to halt centre Dwayne Sweeney before Gear knocked the ball on over the line as he chased down Brett's chip.
England were under pressure at the breakdown but returned to their point of strength in the scrum to win a kickable penalty and get back into the game.
The tourists then scored twice in the last minute before half-time to storm back into the lead.
When Referee Craig Joubert awarded England a penalty at the ruck, Care spotted the opportunity to exploit a disorganised Maori defence, took the quick tap and beat lock Jarrad Hoeata to score.
The Maori sought a response but Hodgson intercepted a pass from McAlister on halfway and sent Ashton over for the try.
England had dominated the breakdown and the tackle count in the first half but their lead was tentative – and within eight minutes of the restart it had been scrubbed out.
Tait and Barritt both fell off McAlister and when the ball was spread wide, Gear charged through a gaping hole in the England defence to score his second try.
The Maori then pounced again after another mistake at the breakdown and the ball was spread left to Gear, who capitalised on a major overlap to complete his hat-trick.
McAlister converted both tries to edge the Maori into a 29-28 lead after 48 minutes.
England's pack remained on top but Delon Armitage missed their only penalty shot of the second half with a skewed effort from long range.
The Maori closed out the game with two penalties from replacement Willie Ripia, which left England requiring a converted try to win – and they blew two golden chances.
Geraghty's attempted kick for touch went dead and when Ben Foden launched a searing break, he chose to chip ahead instead of passing to Armitage and the ball again slid over the dead ball line.
Man-of-the-match: Three bully-like tries cannot be ignored. If winger Hosea Gear does not make New Zealand's squad for the upcoming Tri-Nations then I will eat my hat. Immense.
For NZ Maori:
Tries: Gear 3, Messam
Con: McAlister 3
Pen: McAlister, Ripia 2
Tries: S Armitage, Care, Ashton
Con: Hodgson 2
Pen: Hodgson 3
New Zealand Maori: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Dwayne Sweeney, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Messam (c), 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Karl Lowe, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Hayden Triggs, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Clint Newland.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Isaac Ross, 19 Colin Bourke, 20 Ruki Tipuna, 21 Willie Ripia, 22 Jackson Willison.
England: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 David Strettle, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Ashton, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Danny Care, 8 Phil Dowson, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Chris Robshaw (c), 5 Geoff Parling, 4 David Attwood, 3 Paul Doran-Jones, 2 George Chuter, 1 David Flatman.
Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Dan Cole, 18 Dan Ward-Smith, 19 James Haskell, 20 Ben Youngs, 21 Shane Geragthy, 22 Ben Foden.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)