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NZ Maori go down to England Saxons

NZPA     03 Jun 2007    

Looking to make a statement on London's hallowed turf, a try from the tournament hosts' replacement Tom Croft seven minutes from the end saw the Maori walk off a dejected bunch.

While the English Saxons won on an efficient game based around sound defence and purposeful tactical kicking, the Maori had more than their share of possession to defend their title.

Even better goalkicking would have nailed them the final today.

First five-eighth Tamati Ellison and his replacement Callum Bruce managed just one successful shot at goal from six attempts, which included three kickable first-half penalties.

Maori co-coach Shane Howarth said his team were relying on the quick recycling of possession and hard running that they had employed to eliminate Canada and Ireland A from the playoff.

But they couldn't hold on to the ball long enough to cause damage to the Saxons and at other times gifted their opponents possession with long, aimless kicks.

Co-coach Donny Stevenson said the loss hit the team harder when they realised the New Zealand Juniors and the All Blacks had scored handsome victories over Fiji and France respectively this weekend.

"We're pretty disappointed with that effort today. The boys are pretty dejected," he told NZPA.

"We had some opportunities, but we didn't hang on to the ball for long enough periods to cause adequate impact. All the players weren't too happy with their performances, much of that can be attributed to the pressure England put on us.

"We didn't react that well."

After playmakers Olly Barkley, who punished the Maori with his fine tactical and touch kicks, and Ellison missed a penalty goal chance each, Saxons winger Paul Sackey finished a backline move after both Ellison and winger Anthony Tahana were guilty of defence lapses.

Barclay converted before Ellison missed two more penalty kicks.

Second five-eighth and captain Rua Tipoki created the first of the two Maori tries, dancing through heavy traffic, making 60m and setting up Tahana to finish it.

Ellison kicked a penalty two minutes after halftime and the Maori led for the first time, 8-7.

But that lasted just three minutes when a sound Saxons' scrum saw them create an overlap for winger Tom Voyce to score.

Bruce replaced Tamati in the 52nd minute, bringing with him obvious instructions to keep the ball in hand.

Six minutes later centre Jason Kawau scored, the result of constant pounding by the Maori.

The fatal blow however didn't come until the 73rd minute when fullback Shannon Paku produced an aimless kick which the Saxons moved swiftly on counter attack and Croft changed gear twice to beat the cover defence and score.

We kicked away a lot of possession that we normally wouldn't," Stevenson said.

Tipoki broke the defence twice more with his deceptive footwork but lacked quick support both times.

Stevenson said the plan was to be more patient with ball in hand in the second half but for some reason the Maori didn't change their game.

"That was the frustrating thing, we wanted to be more patient and told the boys to be a bit more composed and don't try to rush things," he said.

"We got some points up and we thought we would come right, but we seemed to be always struggling for momentum and continuity, and in the end turnovers proved fatal."