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Maori All Blacks secure series leveller

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Lynn McConnell     20 Jul 2019     Getty Images

Scrum power with tighthead prop Tyrell Lomax thriving and poor lineout work from Fiji gave the Maori impetus they lacked in their Suva clash.

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The ball skills of the Fijians were still impressive and several times stretched the Maori but the finish was not to the level achieved at home.

The Maori were a much more unified force and any time a break occurred the cover was quick to scramble and with first five-eighths Otere Black enjoying the benefit of superior ball, there was a much more astute tactical game unleashed by the Maori.

It was disappointing for the Maori that one of their kingpins, lock Pari Pari Parkinson who had been outstanding and a competitor at every lineout had to leave the field after coming down heavily on his ankle in a lineout.

A double chargedown gave Fiji the field position to set up their first try. Black charged down Fiji first five-eighths Alivereti Veitokani's kick. It rebounded off a teammate and was picked up by Fiji's centre Waisea Nayacalevu who took play up to the line.

Then as the play freed up, out on the left flank was flanker Dominiko Waqaniburotu, who kicked the ball ahead when unable to take the rough pass. Then when able to grasp the ball he flicked it between his legs to hooker Veremalua Vugakoto who scored in the corner in the eighth minute.

Parkinson and second five-eighths Alex Nankivell set powerful examples with determined play when having ball in hand.



But it was right wing Jordan Hyland who created the chance when taking play back infield from his right wing. Another influential contributor to the Maori cause, halfback Bryn Hall, cleared the ball quickly and Nankivell made the most of Fiji's backs running up out of the line. He took the ball to space and then gave wing Sean Wainui the ball with space to run in a 13th minute try.

There may have been no further scoring in the half but there was no lack of action. Fiji missed one try after impressive pick-and-go play when the ball was knocked on short of the line allowing the Maori to clear.

Then, when centre Rob Thompson put a kick into the Fiji in-goal two minutes out from halftime, Hall made an effort to flick the ball back into the field of play where Hyland touched the ball down. However, the TMO found evidence that Hall had been on the dead ball line when completing the action.

From the 22m restart, Veitokani took a short kick, and when Stevenson had it rebound off him as he bent to pick it up, it was taken by Veitokani who took play deep into the Maori All Blacks' half which took desperate defence before the ball was turned over.
Two minutes into the second half Black peeled off 45m with a superb penalty kick to the corner. That allowed the Maori to set their lineout maul to work and from the resulting drive No.8 Whetukamokamo Douglas drove hard through the defence to the line.

Hall then unleashed a bullet-like pass across the defenders that found Thompson running onto it at the perfect angle to edge the defence and go under the crossbar for the try.

The introduction of Akira Ioane to No.8 had an immediate impact when from his first scrum he took the ball off the back and worked the ball on the blindside with Wainui taking the ball to the line. From a five-metre scrum, Ioane went around the openside of the scrum and was pulled down millimetres short of the line.

The Fijians were penalised and from another scrum, the ball was cleared and Black's kick to the open wing saw Veitokani unable to control the ball and as it dropped it was Nankiville who was on the spot to touch down for the try.

More forward power saw lock Tom Franklin run hard off a ruck and reverse pass a ball to replacement lock Isaia Walker-Leawere who drove through low to score and give the Maori a 16-point buffer.

Fijian danger man Filipo Nakosi had few chances but in the 74th minute he made a superb run downfield and Fiji had the ball held up over the line. Then from a five-metre scrum the pressure went on and it was replacement No.8 John Dyer picked the ball up and scored.

Fiji fought hard into the final stages but the Maori line held and the series ended with honours shared.

Scorers: Maori All Blacks 26 (Sean Wainui, Rob Thompson, Alex Nankiville, Isaia Walker-Leawere tries: Otere Black 3 con) Fiji 17 (Veremalua Vugakot, Johnny Dyer tries; Alivereti Veitokani con, pen; Josh Matavesi con). HT: 7-7