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New Zealand Maori through to Churchill Cup final

Sportsbeat

NZPA     30 May 2007     Sportsbeat

The defending champions will play England Saxons in the Cup decider on Sunday morning (NZ time) at Twickenham.

Irish lock Ryan Caldwell was outstanding in Ireland's half hour of early dominance.

Initially, the Maori had few opportunities to execute their trademark backplay and had to rely on counter attacks sparked by skipper Rua Tipoki, wing Hosea Gear and first five-eighth Tamati Ellison to keep the Irish honest.

Ireland took the lead in just under three minutes as the Maori defence caved in under pressure.

After a lineout drive, Irish second five Darren Cave nipped through to score a try which first five Johnny Sexton converted.

Ellison cut the deficit with a fifth minute penalty before his side took the lead from their first breakout of the match.

A clever Shannon Paku kick through after a lineout saw Gear swoop for his side's opening try, which Ellison converted.

But there was still plenty of fire in the Irish side as they pinned the Maori down in their 22.

Centre Keith Earls had a simple run in for a touchdown to put his side back in the lead, despite Sexton missing an easy conversion in the 16th minute.

The Maori were down to 14 men when prop Ben May was shown the yellow card by Scottish referee Andy Macpherson for a ruck foul.

After 30 minutes, the Irish paid the price for their fiery start and the Maori gained parity as Tipoki and Gear sparked several dangerous moves.

A Gear surge close to the line was finished off by Paku whose try was converted by Ellison in the 31st minute.

With the Irish down to 14 men after halfback Frank Murphy was sinbinned in the 35th minute for a blatant offside, Ellison touched down after beating a couple of tackles.

Dwayne Sweeney converted for a 24-12 halftime lead.

There was little on offer from the a bedraggled Irish in the second half, with their spirits sagging by the minute as Tipoki's men slammed in try after try.

Gear took three minutes to double his tally and May atoned for his sin binning with a couple by the 56th minute, with Ellison converting all three.

Ireland scored consolation tries through Cave and substitute lock David Gannon, but Maori substitute Callum Bruce had the final say with a try in the final minute.

New Zealand Maori assistant coach Shane Howarth told NZPA he was happy to have made the final but far from satisfied with aspects of today's performance.

"We expected the Irish to play with the passion they showed and are happy to have the win but we lost composure and communication and tried to throw miracle passes in the second half," Howarth said.

Defensive plays also needed to be looked at as the England Saxons, who played a 10-man game, would punish any deficiencies.