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Ireland's tour gets off to a terrible start after Maori All Blacks stun visitors

Ireland lost 32-17 to the Maori All Blacks in Hamilton this morning.

Brad Weber scores a try for the Maoris.
Brad Weber scores a try for the Maoris.
Image: Photosport/Jeremy Ward/INPHO

MAORI ALL BLACKS 32

IRELAND 17

THIS WAS LIKE the bad old days of Irish rugby, when the amateur tourists regularly surrendered to the failing of thinking with their hearts rather than their heads.

Here in Hamilton, today’s professionals proved to be just as guilty with their decision-making. Far too often Ireland passed when they should have run. The times when they tried to speed the game up were occasions when they actually needed to slow it down.

On top of all that there was their kicking strategy. In all, three of the first-half Maori tries stemmed from inaccuracy off the boot, Jimmy O’Brien and Ciaran Frawley wayward with their Garryowens, issues compounded by inadequate kick-chase attempts from their team mates.

Even the fourth Maori try had its origins in an Irish mistake, Ireland’s defence reacting too slowly to Wayne Barnes’ decision to award a free kick to the hosts inside the 22.

And that was that. There may have been 15 points in it at the end; the game officially finished at 9.05pm local time but in reality, it was done and dusted by half-time.

On top of all this there were injuries. Cian Healy hobbled off in the second half with a horrible looking injury; James Hume also went off hurt while O’Brien, Jeremy Loughman took big hits, too. But the scars they’ll all nurse tonight won’t just be physical ones.

gavin-coombes-applauds-the-fans-after-the-game Coombes applauds Ireland's fans. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Emotionally, that second quarter capitulation will hurt.

It’s hard to believe that at one stage early in the match Ireland held a 10-8 lead, an advantage that got wiped out in that 20-minute spell just before half-time when the Maoris scored 24 unanswered points, tries coming from winger Shaun Stevenson, scrum-half Brad Weber and No8 Cullen Grace.

But that’s only half the story. Really this was a period when Ireland contributed to their own problems. They had plenty of possession but they gifted it away far too cheaply; the Maoris merciless in their response.

Not that this was ever going to be a surprise. While their calendar isn’t overly busy, the Maoris have still managed to lose just twice in 19 years, Fiji and the British and Irish Lions their conquerors on those occasions.

Here, the Maoris stumbled initially, regained their balance and then cruised for that second quarter.

And yet Ireland’s early moments had been promising; breaks from James Hume, O’Brien and Dave Heffernan suggesting they were in the mood for an upset, a big hit from Bundee Aki forcing a scrum and from that, Healy – who had replaced the starting loosehead, Jeremy Loughman, from the second to 13th minutes – won a scrum penalty. Frawley kicked it and Ireland had a 3-0 lead.

But not for long. The Maori All Blacks’ first attack led to a penalty – Aki pinged for offside by ref, Barnes. Josh Ioane stroked his kick between the posts to level things up.

By now a pattern was emerging, the Maori All Blacks showing a willingness to counter at every available opportunity, Zarn Sullivan, their full back, and Connor Garden-Bachop, the left winger, looking particularly lively in that opening quarter.

cian-healy-down-injured Cian Healy goes down injured. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Indeed it was Sullivan’s 50:22 that put Ireland on the back foot and by the time the line-out was won, it required too many Irish defenders to halt flanker Billy Harmon’s burst towards the Irish line – and by the time Harmon was involved a second time in this move, an overlap had opened on the right. Weber spotted it, finding Sullivan with a decent pass, allowing the full-back to run in. 8-3, Maori All Blacks.

Ireland’s response was strong. A set-piece play saw Nick Timoney, and Gavin Coombes involved, before Aki ran a clever line to break free from midfield and score. Now it was 10-8.

And then it was 11-10 to the Maoris after Aki was penalised for not releasing, Ioane scoring from a difficult angle just a minute or so after he had missed an easier kick from in front of the posts.

Now to the second Maori try; Frawley’s Garryowen was collected by Sullivan; his pass to Ioane led to the out-half making a run from the New Zealand 22 to the Irish 22, beyond the despairing clutches of Aki, where he passed to Shaun Stevenson who scored. Ioane converted and the score was 18-10.

That was the tale of this quarter. There was a big price to pay for small mistakes. A free kick given against them by ref Barnes, after they closed the gap at the line out, led to the third Maori try five minutes before the break, Ioane again involved, Rameka Poihipi with the carry that got him across the gainline, Weber following up to score. It was 25-10 now and if you thought that scoreline looked bad then worse was to come.

Just before half-time, a fourth try – an absolute shocker to concede – put the Maoris out of reach as O’Brien kicked the ball to nowhere in particular; Sullivan gathered after a wicked bounce, and with no one supporting O’Brien’s run chase, within seconds the ball had left New Zealand’s 22 and was being transferred by Stevenson to Cullen Grace.

Barnes blew for half-time but may as well have whistled for full-time because this game was over.

So, however, was the Maori scoring. Ireland were much better after the break, more controlled in their thinking, more careful with the ball, but not careful enough. A period of dominance from 40 minutes to 50 failed to yield a score, one which could have given the tourists some momentum.

At one stage Heffernan spilled the ball as he attempted to take a quick tap from five metres out; on another occasion Timoney’s reach for the try line fell inches short.

And that summed up the night. A late try for Coombes – whose stock has risen on the back of a fine display – put some respectability on the scoreline but when they analyse this game, they will know that for all their passion and never-say-die spirit, Ireland should not be pleased about what they produced.

This could be a very long tour.

Maori All Blacks scorers

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Tries:  Sullivan, Stevenson, Weber, Grace

Conversions: Iaone (3/4)

Penalties: Iaone (2/3) Love (0/1)

Ireland scorers

Tries: Aki, Coombes

Conversions: Frawley (2/2)

Penalties: Frawley (1/1)

Maori All Blacks

Zarn Sullivan; Shaun Stevenson (Bailyn Sullivan ’49), Billy Proctor, Rameka Poihipi (Canterbury/Chiefs), Connor Garden-Bachop; Josh Ioane (rep: Ruben Love ’69), Brad Weber (rep: TJ Perenara ’49); Ollie Norris (rep: Tamaiti Williams ’61), Kurt Eklund (rep: Tyrone Thompson ’68), Tyrel Lomax (rep: Jermaine Ainsley ’53); Josh Dickson (Maanaki Selby-Rickit ’61), Isaia Walker-Leawere; Cameron Suafoa (rep: TK Howden ’68), Billy Harmon, Cullen Grace

Ireland: Jimmy O’Brien (rep: Joey Carbery ’60); Jordan Larmour, James Hume (rep: Michael Lowry ’49), Bundee Aki, Keith Earls; Ciaran Frawley (rep: Joey Carbery ‘), Craig Casey (rep: Conor Murray ‘); Jeremy Loughman (rep: Cian Healy ’2-13, 41-69 – Bealham ’69), Dave Heffernan (rep: Niall Scannell ’52), Tom O’Toole; Kieran Treadwell (rep: Ryan Baird ’52), Joe McCarthy; Cian Prendergast, Nick Timoney, Gavin Coombes (rep: Jack Conan ’78)

Replacements not used: Conor Murray,

Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)

About the author:

Garry Doyle  / reports from Hamilton

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