International: Maori All Blacks’ first half blitz clinches victory over Ireland

David Skippers

The Maori All Blacks proved too strong for Ireland as they clinched a 32-17 victory in an entertaining international in Hamilton on Wednesday.

The home side were full value for their win as they made an excellent start to the match and raced into a 32-10 lead at half-time.

Ireland came back strongly after the interval but, although they scored the only points in the second half, the damage was done during the opening period and the Maori All Blacks did enough to clinch their victory.

In the end, they outscored Andy Farrell‘s men by four tries to two with Zarn Sullivan, Shaun Stevenson, Brad Weber and Cullen Grace crossing the whitewash, while Josh Ioane finished with a 12-point haul courtesy of three conversions and two penalties.

For Ireland, Bundee Aki and Gavin Coombes scored tries while Ciaran Frawley succeeded with two conversions and a penalty.

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The opening exchanges were cagey, with Frawley and Ioane trading penalties which meant the sides were deadlocked at 3-3 after eight minutes. Ten minutes later, the home side were rewarded with the opening try – Sullivan rounding off after Ioane and Billy Harmon laid the groundwork with strong carries in the build-up.

It did not take long for the visitors to respond and they did it in style in the 20th minute when Coombes gathered the ball from Nick Timoney off the back of a maul just outside the Maori All Blacks’ 22 and set off towards the try-line. He did well to draw in a couple of defenders before offloading to Aki, who burst through a gap in the home side’s defence before crossing under the posts.

Frawley added the extras but that was as good as it got for Ireland in the opening period as the rest of the half was dominated by the home side. Ioane added a penalty in the 27th minute before he turned provider by launching a stunning attack from inside his own half before offloading to Stevenson, who outsprinted the cover defence on his way over the try-line.

That score seemed to boost the Maori’s confidence as they continued to attack at every opportunity. In the 35th minute, they found themselves on the attack deep inside Ireland’s half with Rameka Poihipi stopped just short of the try-line after a strong carry. From the ensuing ruck, Weber gathered before diving over for a deserved try.

And just before the interval, the hosts launched a counter attack from inside their 22 with Stevenson prominent. He set off on a mazy run before throwing a poor pass to Harmon, who booted the ball ahead deep inside Ireland’s half before regathering. The flanker then got a pass out to Grace, who crashed over the whitewash which meant the Maori had their tails up with a comfortable lead at the break.

Ireland were more competitive in the second half and in the 48th minute they thought they had narrowed the gap when Timoney crossed the Maori All Blacks’ try-line but television replays revealed that Isaia Walker-Leawere did well to hold him up and the score was ruled out.

Improvement from Ireland in second half

Despite that setback, the visitors continued to attack but they were kept at bay by a solid defensive effort from the home side, who also had some good moments with ball in hand but poor finishing meant they could not add to their points tally.

Ireland were finally rewarded in the 67th minute when, after an extensive period camped inside the Maori’s 22, they took a tap penalty with Niall Scannell leading the way before Coombes crashed over from close quarters.

The rest of the match was an even affair as both sides looked to finish the match on a high but it wasn’t to be as neither would score further points.

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