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Maori complete great centenary series

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Sportal.co.nz     23 Jun 2010     Getty Images

Ironically, on a night of spirited attacking play from both sides, it was two penalty goals by replacement Maori first five-eighths Willie Ripia in the 72nd and 75th minutes, and a misguided penalty kick to the Maori corner in the 77th minute by replacement England five-eighths Shane Geraghty that finally decided the game.

Inspired by yet another outstanding display from wing Hosea Gear, who scored three tries in another example of the dominance he has shown in the three-match centenary series, the Maori matched dazzling attack with sterling defence, especially against England's attempts at mauling play.

And while the ball didn't flow to the right wing for Sean Maitland, he made his own impact off the ball with some consistent chasing of Maori kicks ahead.

It was a game which was played at high pace throughout as England made a significant contribution by running the ball from the outset.

First five-eighths Charlie Hodgson looked to the manner born as England mounted wave after wave of running attacks to dominate the early stages of the game before the Maori finally stormed back.

However, it was the superior attacking skills, augmented by a powerful return to form of second five-eighths Luke McAlister, and some bludgeoning running by centre Dwayne Sweeney, that opened up the England defences.

England went to halftime with a 28-17 lead however it couldn't score in the second half, especially after the Maori struck back early in the second half when Gear crossed for his second try, in the 42nd minute.

It came from a mid-field bust by McAlister. From the ruck, the ball was moved and Gear powered his way through to bring the score back to 28-24.

The response saw the Maori storm straight back onto attack after a burst by No.8 Liam Messam. Quick ball, with lock Hayden Triggs firing a pinpoint long pass to first five-eighths Stephen Brett had three Maori to one and Gear was in for his third as the Maori negated the two tries in three minutes scored by England just before the halftime break.

The Maori came back from 0-13 to lead 17-13 after two superb tries, but a piece of quick-thinking by England halfback Danny Care at a tap penalty saw him cross unimpeded while the Maori attempted to counter only to have a long pass from first five-eighths Stephen Brett intercepted by his opposite number Hodgson.

When he ran out of puff he flicked the ball to wing Chris Ashton who scored.

England made a superb start, spinning the ball to achieve impressive continuity during the first four minutes in which time Hodgson landed a second minute penalty goal, and then two minutes later threading a kick into the Maori 22m area.

It took a clever piece of footwork from Ashton who kept the ball from going into touch with a deft kick back infield while in mid-air over the touchline allowing flanker Steffon Armitage touched down. And Hodgson added a superb conversion from the out wide.

Hodgson extended the lead to 13-0 with a second penalty in the 11th minute but the Maori responded a minute later with McAlister landing a penalty goal.

And then the home team hit its straps with a brilliant counter-attacking try starting when a Hodgson penalty goal attempt hit the post and rebounded into play. Fullback Robbie Robinson demanded the ball and set sail at speed downfield.

He linked with McAlister who then in-passed to flanker Karl Lowe. He went to ground and then as it was moved back to the left Brett fired a long pass to wing Hosea Gear who pushed off his marker, then raced through more tackles to touch down wide out for McAlister to land the conversion.

England attacked again but from a scrum, a lack of communication between No.8 Phil Dowson and halfback Danny Care allowed Maori halfback Aaron Smith to pick the ball up, feed Brett, who then showed great composure to feed Messam and he crossed in Hodgson's tackle. McAllister added the conversion from wide on the right for the Maori to lead 17-13.

Hodgson reduced the margin to one with his third penalty goal in the 34th minute.

Hodgson left the field early in the second half after taking a blow.

Scorers:

NZ Maori 35 (Hosea Gear 3, Liam Messam tries; Luke McAlister 3 con, pen; Willie Ripia 2 pen) England 28 (Steffon Armitage, Danny Care, Chris Ashton tries; Charlie Hodgson 2 con, 3 pen). HT: 17-28