Strong first half propels Māori All Blacks to victory

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A tremendous first half laid the platform for the Māori All Blacks victory, the home team running in four tries off a powerful scrum, some aggressive breakdown work and some slick counter-attacking rugby.

 

In fullback Zarn Sullivan, the Māori All Blacks had the best player on the field, safe under the high ball, long off the boot, including a 50/22, and spearing over for a try after that 50/22. He enjoyed the moment when his brother Bailyn joined him on the field in the second stanza, the first time they have played together at any level.

 

There was a bit of push and shove in the first quarter, but then both sides settled down to play and ran in five quality tries.

 

Ireland took a second lead when captain and second five Bundee Aki, returning to the ground where he won a Super Rugby title in 2013, skidded over from a slick lineout after a short pass from No 8 Gavin Coombes.

 

There was loose passing by both sides in the slippery conditions, but the Māori All Blacks found their accuracy and attacking fluency to cross for further tries from wing Shaun Stevenson, who was a constant danger to the Irish defence, halfback and co-captain Brad Weber, and No 8 Cullen Grace.

 

Stevenson’s try came from a searing break by first five Josh Ioane, but that five pointer was no better than Grace’s, started by a long Stevenson run and which then featured the impressive flanker Billy Harmon for the last pass.

 

At 32-10 at the break, it looked home and hosed for the Māori All Blacks, but they did not add a point in the second spell. This was because Ireland stiffened up its defence, and benefitted from the injection of fresh legs. It was not, however, able to capitalise due to a rising penalty count and profligacy when in possession.

 

Worryingly, the tourists lost two players – centre Jamie Hume and veteran prop Cian Healy – with what looked to be serious injuries. But they did shore up their scrum late on and Coombes crossed off a quick tap to close the gap to 15.

 

 

There was time for the Māori All Blacks to introduce their further six debutants off the pine, including 78-Test All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara, the team’s co-captain.

 

In all, it was a pleasing result for the Māori All Blacks, though they will want more minutes of quality.

 

As for Ireland, there was much commitment and endeavour, but the gap between its first and second XVs looks considerable.

 

There was a touching moment before kickoff when Aki laid an Ireland No 11 jersey on the halfway line in tribute to former Māori All Blacks threequarter Sean Wainui, who tragically died last year well before his time. Then followed a rousing haka by the side.

 

The two sides will meet again in Wellington in July 12 before the third Test.

 

Māori All Blacks 32 (Zarn Sullivan, Shaun Stevenson, Brad Weber, Cullen Grace tries; Josh Ioane 3 con, 2 pen) Ireland 17 (Bundee Aki, Gavin Coombes tries; Ciaran Frawley 2 con, pen) HT: 32-10 Māori All Blacks

 

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