NZ Maori pip Australia A for Pacific Nations Title

New Zealand Maori clinched the Pacific Nations Cup rugby championship with a match-winning try three minutes from time for a 21-18 win over Australia A on Sunday.


Wellington Hurricanes’ flanker Thomas Waldrom’s 77th-minute try enabled the New Zealand Maori to leapfrog the previously-unbeaten Australia A on the final standings and claim the tournament by just one point after five rounds.


Fullback Mark Gerrard had the chance to draw the match in the final minute, which would have been enough for Australia A to claim the title, only for his 45-metre attempt to fall agonisingly short to give the Maori the Cup.


It was the first appearance in the Pacific Nations Cup for the Maori, replacing the Junior All Blacks who romped to victory in the Cup’s first two years.


New Zealand Maori head coach Donny Stevenson had to endure some anxious moments before the fulltime whistle signalled his team’s triumph.


“In the end we had some experienced guys to get us through but we didn’t make it easy for ourselves, we were really scrambling at the end,” he said.


“We thought if we could put some phases together the opportunities would come but we lost the ball at critical times. I was concerned at some of the decision making.”


“We only had to hold out for a couple of minutes and we ended up defending our line. Luckily that kick fell short.”


Former rugby league international centre Timana Tahu had appeared to put Australia A within sight of victory with his second try of the match for an 18-14 lead with 20 minutes left.


But with seven minutes remaining, the Maori chanced their arm, throwing the ball from side to side, and aided by some ruck penalties awarded by Fijian referee James Bolabiu while Australia A were in possession, the Kiwis were presented with a late chance to snatch the game.


Hurricanes centre Tamati Ellison found a gap on the left and passed inside to Waldrom who barged over between two defenders.


Scrum-half Piri Weepu converted from wide out to put the Maori in front with just minutes to go.


Australia A coach Phil Mooney described the close-run defeat as “a game of lost opportunities”.


“We really gifted them 14 points at the back end of the first half and worked really well in the second half to get ourselves into a position from where we probably should have shut the game out,” Mooney said.


“But in the end we just weren’t quite good enough.” The Maori finished the tournament unbeaten with earlier victories over Tonga (20-9), Fiji (11-7), Samoa (17-6) and Japan (65-22).


Samoa nudged Fiji out of third place in the tournament after their 37-31 home win over Japan, while the Fijians slumped to 27-16 loss to Tonga in 27-16 in Nuku’alofa.


Sapa-AFP – Rugbyweek.com

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