Māori All Blacks return to winning ways in Rotorua

By James Perry

The Māori All Blacks have bounced back from their 27-10 loss last week in Suva to defeat the Flying Fijians 26-17 in Rotorua on Saturday night.

Clayton McMillan's side outscored the world ninth-ranked team four tries to two to end their short season on a positive, after being outplayed last Saturday.

Both teams did their best to entertain the 13,404 supporters who walked through the gates of the Rotorua International Stadium.

Fiji got the scoring underway early, with Veremalua Vugakoto touching down after centre Waisea Nayacalevu gave a miracle ball between his legs. 

The Māori All Blacks hit back later, when Sean Wainui was put into space on the left wing to cross for his third try of the series. The hosts spent the majority of the remainder of the first half on attack and in the Fijian half, but couldn't crack the Fijian defence. A missed penalty attempt by Fiji flyhalf Alivereti Veitokani kept the scores tied at 7-7. 

A desperate attempt by Bryn Hall to keep the ball alive looked to have given Jordan Hyland his first try in a Māori All Blacks jersey in the shadow of half-time, but on review the television match official ruled Hall had put a foot on the dead ball line before regathering the ball. Both sides went into the sheds seven points apiece at the break.

Shortly after the restart, Māori centre Rob Thompson went under the crossbar off a superb short ball from Hall. Otere Black converted, giving the home side a 14-7 advantage.

Giant lock Pari Pari Parkinson left the field soon after with what looked an ankle injury and was replaced by Isaia Walker-Leawere.

Fiji hit back minutes later with a penalty right in front of the posts, with Veikotani drawing the Fijians to within four points of the Māori side.

Clayton McMillan began to utilise his bench 15 minutes into the second half. Akira Ioane entered the game replacing Reed Prinsep, skipper Ash Dixon was replaced by former All Black Nathan Harris and Hall made way for hometown hero Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi at halfback. 

Midfield back Alex Nakivell was rewarded for his solid performances with his first try in the Māori jersey, when he pounced on a loose ball from an Otere Black cross-field kick.

Walker-Leawere powered over for a try in the 63rd minute, earning a round of applause and a thumbs up from his father in the crowd. 

Fiji scored a try late in the game to bring the scores to 26-17 with minutes remaining. 

The Māori All Blacks closed out the match, holding the ball until the final hooter when fittingly Tahuriorangi kicked the ball over the main stand to give the Māori a 26-17 victory, levelling the series 1-1 and avoiding their first back-to-back loss since 1969.

Te Ao spoke to reporter James Perry about the game.