Maori All Blacks 24 Ireland 30
So much for losing all five games. This is turning into quite the tour. On a dirty Wellington night when you wouldn’t have put the cat out, the Maoris didn’t look or play like the team which beat Ireland 32-17 almost a fortnight previously, and akin to the Test team a 21-point turnaround and revenge win with this much improved midweek side represented a good night’s work.
Once again they played in a downpour, and plenty of things didn’t work — not least the lineout, which struggled to cope with the heat defensive work of the Maoris to begin with before gradually problem solving — and well though Ireland defended for large chunks they were again exposed by a couple of counter-attacks. The Maoris, always looking to take quick taps, counter and play at a high tempo, caused them plenty of problems and will rue a hatload of handling errors.
The collective Irish performance, imbued with a palpable belief and work-rate, with an inexperienced, patchwork side was the most impressive aspect of their display. The scrummaging was largely rock solid and in the second-half they really went to work.
Andy Farrell wanted to unearth a few jewels and he may well have done so in Tom O’Toole, the excellent Kieran Treadwell (whose removal before the hour after calling the lineouts was a clear signal that he will play his fifth match of the tour next Saturday), Nick Timoney and Gavin Coombes all really impressed.
Behind them, Craig Casey was as busy as a bee, as ever, Ciaran Frawley oozed composure and his placekicking was perfect until two late conversions into the elements, Stuart McCloskey added real value. Jordan Larmour again looked razor sharp and scored two tries, albeit he dirtied his bib by conceding a penalty try and yellow card, and Jimmy O’Brien looked the part either on the wing or sweeping at the back.
Best of all, with next Saturday’s series decider in mind, Farrell did not employ Rob Herring, Jack Conan, Conor Murray or Mack Hansen.
On what passes for a grand soft day in wet and windy Wellington, a last of rain akin to a fog swept across the stadium about 10 minutes before kick-off and just as quickly swept by as well.
As dramatic was the news that Finlay Bealham sustained an unspecified injury in the warm-up, meaning that the former Leinster and Irish tight-head Michael Bent was added to the bench. Bent’s last game for Taranaki was in November last year. O’Toole would have to put in a big shift, before potentially being on the bench next Saturday, and he did before Bent came on for poignant and unlikely four minutes at the end.
Ireland couldn’t have made a worse start either. A sliding Keith Earls, captain of a team for the first time since he was 14, knocked on when attempting to gather Josh Ioane’s kick-off along the ground.
The ensuing tap penalty led to an offside and Ioane kicking to the corner, but rather than set up a maul, the Maoris opted for off the top, flanker Billy Harmon feeding TJ Perenara running infield to create an extra man and Shaun Stevenson also coming across his wing as two passes later from his midfielders he scored untouched in the corner.
With Ireland bunching up in the middle, and Stevenson sauntering around Michael Lowry it looked unnervingly easy.
Frawley began to put his stamp on proceeding as Jordan Larmour came across his wing and fed Jeremy Loughman, who had the presence of mind to dummy Stevenson when he would have been intercepted, but Earls’ forward pass eluded Jimmy O’Brien on the edge.
Ireland were kept in the game when the Maoris looked to play width but the pass by Alex Nankivell drifted over the touchline. As the home side switched off, Earls called for Larmour with a quick throw and the winger scampered away from Connor Garden-Bachop to round the posts.
Lowry couldn’t reclaim his own chip from a counter, and Ireland couldn’t buy a lineout, but the Maoris undid some promising positions with knock-ons or side entries and into the second quarter Ireland produced close to their first, and certainly their best, move of the match.
Frawley made the early inroads with a lovely show and go, before some good interlinking between forwards and backs enabled Frawley to make it 10-5 when the Maoris hooker Kurt Eklund didn’t roll away.
Craig Casey was pinged for not rolling away and Cian Prendergast was binned for tackling Isaia Walker-Leawere after his quick tap. But Kieran Treadwell made a vital lineout steal, and made another one-handed catch at the tail, before Ireland twice went to the corner.
Ollie Norris was binned for side entry in preventing a likely maul try and Gavin Coombes looked to have burrowed over before Nick Timoney rewarded the pack’s pressure by reaching out for the line when double tackled. An alert intercept by Niall Scannell meant Ireland led 17-5 at the break.
Frawley extended that lead with another well-struck kick on the resumption after Timoney quickly released after tackling Eklund and winning a penalty with his strength over the ball. But Ireland had been made fully aware of the Maoris’ counter-attacking threat if they didn’t get their kick-chase game right.
The five-man chasing line from Frawley’s lengthy punt but Coombes went for the same man as Prendergast to leave a gap and when the Maoris worked Caleb Delany free on the left touchline and when Larmour tugged the supporting Garden-Bachop by the shoulder before he received the inside pass, not only was he binned but Karl Dickson awarded a penalty try.
Ireland managed that 10 minutes well, helped by a wonderful sliding catch on the run by Jimmy O’Brien and a nice touchfinder by Lowry, before a lovely interchange between Loughman, Tom O’Toole and Trwadwell, and a combined choke tackle by McLoskey again and the omnipresent Treadwell on Josh Moorby to earn a turnover scrum, while Timoney won another penalty in the jackal.
When Ryan Baird did likewise after replacing Treadwell, Ireland went to the corner and although the lineout was again nicked, the ball bounced away from replacement hooker Leni Apisai for Ireland to regain possession, Coombes burrowing over for the try his industry deserved, with Ed Byrne and Baird latching on.
The Hurricanes fullback Ruben Love made quite an impact after coming on, countering off a poor kick by Larmour and worse chase to spread-eagle the Irish defence and then take a looped return pass infield by the much hyped Cullen Grace to score.
But Stevenson was binned for a deliberate knock-on and Ireland turned the screw. Timoney and Casey probed the blindside initially and several phases later slow ball was turned into a try when McCloskey took Frawley’s pass and quickly pulled the ball left to right for Larmour to score his second try.
Brad Weber’s converted try had the final action and was a tad irritating for Ireland, but this was a good win.
Scoring sequence: 3 mins Stevenson try 5-0; 8 mins Larmour try, Frawley con 5-7; 26 mins Frawley pen 5-10; 33 mins Timoney try, Frawley con 5-17; (half-time 5-17); 42 mins Frawley pen 5-20; 45 mins penalty try 12-20; 67 mins Coombes try 12-25; Love try 17-25; 78 mins Larmour try 30-17; 80 mins Weber try, Ioane con 30-24
Maori All Blacks: Josh Moorby; Shaun Stevenson, Bailyn Sullivan, Alex Nankivell, Connor Garden-Bachop; Josh Ioane, TJ Perenara; Ollie Norris, Kurt Eklund, Tyrel Lomax, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Reed Prinsep, Billy Harmon, Cullen Grace.
Replacements: Caleb Delany for Prinsep (17 mins), Tamaiti Williams for Delaney (32-41 mins) and for Norris (56 mins), Brad Weber for Perenara (51 mins), Marcel Renata for Lomax, Ruben Love, for Moorby (both 56 mins), Leni Apisai for Eklund, TK Howden for Selby-Rickiet, Billy Proctor for Nankiavell (all 63 mins).
Sinbinned: Norris (31 mins), Stevenson (73 mins).
Ireland: Michael Lowry; Jordan Larmour, Keith Earls, Stuart McCloskey, Jimmy O’Brien; Ciaran Frawley, Craig Casey; Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell, Tom O’Toole, Joe McCarthy, Kieran Treadwell, Cian Prendergast, Nick Timoney, Gavin Coombes.
Replacements: Ryan Baird for Treadwell (57 mins), Ed Byrne for Loughman (61 mins), Joey Carbery for Lowry (63-73 mins), Michael Bent for O’Toole (76 mins).
Not used: Rob Herring, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Mack Hansen.
Sinbinned: Prendergast (27-37 mins), Larmour (45-55 mins).
Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU)
Assistant Referee 1: Christophe Ridley (RFU)
Assistant Referee 2: Jordan Way (RA)
TMO: James Leckie (RA)