David Corkery on rugby: Maori powered past Ireland, what will New Zealand do?

'If Wednesday’s result is anything to go by, this could end up as yet another tour from hell for the men in green...'
David Corkery on rugby: Maori powered past Ireland, what will New Zealand do?

Players from both sides square up to each other in Hamilton. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

THE Maori side-step.

A term affectionately used in rugby when a player with the ball, instead of side-stepping out of contact, runs straight through the tackler usually resulting in hollering teammates and a bewildered defender.

Anyone who has ever played with or against an indigenous Polynesian side will tell you that when they get the ball in their hands, the level of destruction that they can leave in their wake is equivalent to a bowling ball being shot from a cannon.

When the fixtures for this tour of New Zealand were announced, I winced when I saw that Andy Farrell and his players would be facing the Maoris twice; if Wednesday’s result is anything to go by, this could end up as yet another tour from hell for the men in green.

The Ireland team stand for the anthems before the match against the Maori All Blacks. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The Ireland team stand for the anthems before the match against the Maori All Blacks. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Early days but before we get down to the gritty particulars of this first game, I must make reference to the knock that Jeremy Loughman took to the head in the opening exchanges. I am no doctor, but I’ve observed and suffered enough concussions to know that when Loughman was removed from the field for a HIA, he should not have returned. It was no surprise that when the players returned after halftime, Loughman was nowhere to be seen.

I’ll leave that one with the experts.

The one major difference between the two teams in Wednesday’s game was the level of creative and productive handling between the sides.

When the home team looked to move the ball through the hands they always seemed to break the gain-line or find space that might lead to favourable continuity, whereas when Ireland opted to pass, it seemed that they were doing so just for the sake of it.

Apart from a few darting runs back in of his wing by Jordan Larmour and one or two powerful breaks by captain Bundee Aki, the hosts just used the touchline as a defender every time Ireland looked to put width in their play and found themselves running out of space having made little or no forward momentum.

AUDACIOUS

Normally when the Maoris go about their business they do so with a view of using their bulk and power to create rather blunt holes in their opponents' defensive line however, on this occasion they mixed their power game with some exquisite handling and audacious plays.

Full-back Zarn Sullivan, fly-half Josh Ioane and winger Shaun Stevenson toyed with Ireland’s defence, especially in the first half and because they were all singing from the same hymn sheet and expecting the unexpected pass, their off-loads always seemed to stick which left Ireland grasping at straws and having to make tackles on the back foot.

I guess it is very easy to play the game with a smile on your face when things are going your way, but the difference in expressions and body language between the sides was worryingly noticeable.

As soon as Ireland took to the field they looked worried and almost frightened. Their bodies seemed tight and there were plays and passages where they were almost trying too hard to make things happen.

Bundee Aki of Ireland is tackled by Connor Garden-Bachop of Maori All Blacks, on the way to scoring his side's first try. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki of Ireland is tackled by Connor Garden-Bachop of Maori All Blacks, on the way to scoring his side's first try. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Instead of enjoying the occasion and allowing their natural ability to gain the upper hand over their fellow numbers, Ireland were writing cheques that they simply couldn’t cash and they tried to play a brand of rugby that didn’t suit them and played right into the laps of their hosts.

Maybe this result is a good thing and will prove as a valuable warning sign for Saturday’s first test, but unless Ireland look to embrace and enjoy the next few weeks they will end up licking some major wounds. Wounds that might take years to recover from.

Other Irish players who showed up well were Cian Prendergast and Gavin Coombes. Both never took a backward step and they will undoubtedly be better players when this tour concludes.

Part of me fears for what the outcome on Saturday might be however, there is also part of me that because Ireland have taken their strongest possible side with them, there is an outside chance that the stars might align and the bookmakers might have gotten it wrong.

This is very much a watershed tour for Irish rugby.

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