Maori All Blacks 32 Ireland 17
IRELAND simply had no answer to a slick Maori All Blacks outfit at the FMG Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Wednesday as they shipped a heavy defeat in the opening match of their five-match New Zealand tour.
Four Maori tries from the 18th to 40th minutes put paid to Ireland’s ambitions as a lot of big Irish reputations took a battering that they may never recover from at this exalted level.
After an early flashpoint, the Irish pack put down an early marker by winning a scrum penalty in the 4th minute, which allowed the inexperienced Leinster out-half Ciaran Frawley to slot an early nerve-settler.
The lead did not last long, as the Maoris Josh Ioane kicked a penalty of his own in the eighth minute after the home side had punched a huge hole down the right.
The impressive Maori full-back Zarn Sullivan punished a really poor Jimmy O’Brien kick with a 50-22 kick of his own from deep, and it was fitting that it was he who crossed for the game’s opening try in the 17th minute after being fed by his captain Josh Weber close to the Irish line.
O’Brien almost made amends immediately but Jordan Larmour was unable to gather his chip through, with the line at his mercy.
We did not have long to wait for an Irish score, however, and it was worth waiting for. Number eight Gavin Coombes popped a beautifully disguised pass to his captain Bundee Aki and the New Zealand-born centre sliced right through the Maori cover from 25m to slide under the posts to score in the 20th minute.
Ioane horribly hooked a 25m penalty in the 25th minute, but he made up for it just two minutes later from much further out to give the Maoris an 11-10 lead.
Right-wing Shaun Stevenson then raced away to score a wonderful 29th-minute try that was sparked when Sullivan brilliantly collected an up and under over the head of O’Brien, and from the next phase Ioane punched a hole in the brittle Irish defensive line and put his winger away to score.
The Maori confidence levels were soaring now and Ireland were getting beaten up up front, as the New Zealanders worked an excellent team try that ended with Weber sniping over from close range in the 35th minute.
And they had time for one more before halftime, with the Maoris running it back from deep with Cullen Grace eventually crashing over, but missed tackles from Cian Prendergast, Craig Casey and Ciaran Frawley gave the score an extremely ugly look from an Irish perspective, as the Maoris deservedly led 32-10 at the break.
Ireland came out with clear intent at the start of the second half but Cian Prendergast and Nick Timoney were both judged to be short by the TMO in the opening minutes, as Ireland were denied that early try they needed.
Poor discipline and poor kicking out of hand undermined any attempt Ireland made at getting back into the game, as the Maoris never really had to worry about the prospect of a second-half Irish comeback.
Ireland finally got over for their second try, as Gavin Coombes did his party piece by blasting over from close range in the 68th minute. The Munster man was Ireland’s best player on the night and it was fitting that he capped the display with a try, albeit as part of a side that was well beaten. To come out with any credit on such a difficult night has to be seen in a positive light from the Skibbereen man’s point of view.
Ioane (2 pens, 3 cons), Z Sullivan, Stevenson, Weber, Grace (1 try each).
Frawley (1 pen, 2 cons), Aki, Coombes (1 try each).
Z Sullivan; Stevenson, Proctor, Poihipi, Garden-Bachop; Ioane, Weber (capt); Norris, Eklund, Lomax; Dickson, Walker-Leawere; Suafoa, Harmon, Grace.
Perenara and B Sullivan for Weber and Stevenson (49), Ainsley for Lomax (54), Williams and Selby-Rickit for Eklund and Dickson (61), Thompson, Howden and Love for Norris, Suafoa and Ioane (68).
O'Brien; Larmour, Hume, Aki (capt), Earls; Frawley, Casey; Loughman, Heffernan, O'Toole, McCarthy, Treadwell; Prendergast, Timoney, Coombes.
Healy for Loughman (2), Loughman for Healy (13), Healy for Loughman (40), Lowry for Hume (49), Scannell and Baird for Heffernan and Treadwell (52), Carbery for O’Brien (60), Bealham for Healy (69), Conan for Coombes (79).
Wayne Barnes (RFU).