The midweek Irish side defeated the Māori All Blacks 30-24 in an open encounter in Wellington that belied the windy, slippery conditions, both sides crossing for four tries apiece.
Ireland took a 17-5 lead into the break, showcasing a superior kicking game, winning the battle at the breakdown and often holding the Māori All Blacks up in mauls, whilst also slowing down the home side’s flow of ball.
Yet it was the Māori All Blacks which started more confidently, Josh Ioane forcing a turnover from a dinky kickoff. Right wing Shaun Stevenson, the best Māori All Blacks player on the night, scored out wide off a nice backline move off a lineout. Three crisp passes created space for him. Sadly, there were few other moments of cohesion in the first half for the Maori, whose passing and accuracy deserted them, not to mention having an unwillingness to take shots at goal. They failed to convert further opportunities.
Ireland’s early reply was swift, right wing Jordan Larmour scoring the first of his brace thanks to a heads-up quick lineout throw by captain Keith Earls.
Impressive opensider Nick Timoney scored in close for the tourists to take a handy lead into the changing rooms.
There was a hint of a momentum shift five minutes into the second spell when referee Karl Dickson awarded a penalty try when Larmour was yellow carded for an early tackle on Connor Garden-Bachop. It was the correct call.
Ireland No 8 Gavin Coombes drove over after an untidy lineout to take his side out to 25-12 before the Maori came to life through sub Ruben Love, who started and finished a try from 70m out, taking an inside ball from No 8 Cullen Grace. This was a moment of real Māori All Blacks flair.
Two tries in quick succession closed the contest, Larmour’s second in the corner stretching the margin to 13 before another searing Love break sent Brad Weber over for the final say.
There were four yellow cards dished out – to Larmour and Cian Prendergast of Ireland and Ollie Norris and Stevenson (harshly) for the home team.
Standouts on the night for the Māori All Blacks were Stevenson, debutant sub Caleb Delany, who carried like he meant it, halfback and co-captain TJ Perenara, who kept the referee honest on the laws, and Grace, who put in a consistent 80-minute shift.
For Ireland, halves Craig Casey and Ciaran Frawley controlled the tactics and the field position to good effect, while Coombes, Timoney, Earls and hooker Niall Scannell all played well.
There was a late sub of note for Ireland, with prop Michael Bent coming on for the last few minutes, having answered an SOS due to an injury to Finlay Bealham in the warm-up. Bent, who has played Test rugby for Ireland, appeared for Taranaki and the NZ Barbarians last season, but was thought to have retired until his unexpected call-up.
Ireland 30 (Jordan Larmour 2, Nick Timoney, Gavin Coombes tries; Ciaran Frawley 2 con, 2 pen) Māori All Blacks 24 (Shaun Stevenson, Ruben Love, Brad Weber tries, penalty try; Josh Ioane con) HT: 17-5 Ireland