NZ Maori silence Lions     12 Jun 2005    

He manga wai koia kia kore e whitikia. It is a big river indeed that cannot be crossed.

And tonight, Matt Te Pou's 10-year coaching stint with the New Zealand Maori ends with perhaps his most memorable victory.

It was the first time the NZ Maori side had beaten the Lions in seven matches dating back to 1930. Yet there was little of that kind of history in the haka that erupted over the halfway line of Waikato Stadium around 7.09pm.

Maori No 12 Luke McAlister’s early contribution was handsome - a big hit on opposite Gordon D’arcy and the kind of cross-field kick that has quickly become the tactical vogue on this tour. Early nerves too from one of the British & Irish Lions stand-out performers thus far - fullback Josh Lewsey - who knocked on badly in the 2nd minute.

Heady times. As discipline strained around the set-pieces rightly predicted to be this match’s hot-point, the Maori side repeatedly negated their own bullocking forward play by conceding free-kicks. Yet it was hometown No 10 David Hill who had the first chance for points in the 9th minute... his 36m penalty attempt flagged to the right.

Lions first-five Stephen Jones made no such mistake in the 14th minute after a sniping run from his halfback Matt Dawson. Hill subsequently equalised from a similar distance to his first miss: 3-all.

With strong defensive patterns from both teams threatening to smother the play completely, the Maori broke out via midfield McAlister and Rua Tipoki in the 19th minute. Only Jones’s presence to intercept the final pass prevented a certain try.

Maori No 8 Angus MacDonald knocked on next as five points beckoned in the other corner. But as local flanker Marty Holah grinded ahead of Welshman Martyn Williams in the loose, Hill kicked the homeside to a 6-3 lead.

Half an hour gone and the heaviest front row in Lions history - props Andy Sheridan and Julian White, and hooker Steve Thompson breaking rather than tilting the scales at a combined 348kg – began to make inroads, screwing several Maori scrums in succession.

Jones equalised in the 36th minute, before prop Andy Sheridan booked himself time sideline with a wild, unprovoked punch in the 38th minute.

Halftime score: 6-all