NZ Maori in cruise control in Canada
CLAYTON McMillan’s tenure as New Zealand Maori rugby coach has started in successful fashion, with a predictably comfortable win notched over Canada in Vancouver yesterday.
The Bay of Plenty coach replaced Colin Cooper – who stepped down after four years in the role to focus on his new job at the Chiefs – and would have been chuffed enough with the 51-9 result, in the first match of a twogame tour.
The Maori’s most recent hitout was the 32-10 defeat to the British and Irish Lions in Rotorua in June, which came after an underwhelming 2016 end-of-year tour which featured a loss to Munster.
But they were never going to be seriously troubled this time out, against a Canada side which have slumped to a record-low 24th in the world, behind such lightweights as Germany, Hong Kong, Namibia, Russia and Spain.
Under the roof of the impressive BC Place, which features an artificial turf, the Maori had perfect conditions at their disposal to showcase their natural flair, in front of an inquisitive 29,000 sellout crowd, though handling errors from both sides did make for a rather stop-start affair.
Despite conceding two yellow cards, the Maori showed enough class to capitalise when it counted, as they ran in seven tries to none to record their biggest win over Canada in what was their sixth meeting.
With Charlie Ngatai showing off an often unseen reliable longkicking game by lining up at fullback, replacement Shaun Stevenson producing several eyecatching bursts as one of eight debutants and Ihaia West’s masterful goalkicking, it backed up a bulldozing effort at scrum time, and some hard-rushing defence.
While the Maori were marking the start of a new era, it was the same for Canada.
Kiwi Mark Anscombe was fired as coach in August, after just over a year in the job, having overseen just two wins from 15 games and bearing the brunt of a review by the national body after the team missed out on the first Americas Rugby World Cup qualifying spot for the first time ever, having drawn with the United States but then being thumped 52-16 by them away a week later.
Canada are now faced with a two-match Rugby World Cup qualification series against Uruguay in January/February, under new coach Kingsley Jones.
The former Welsh international was without several topline players in his first outing because the match didn’t fall in the test window, though one man of note was No 8 Tyler Ardron, who suited up for a 26th test a week after finishing a maiden Mitre 10 Cup campaign – ironically under McMillan – after signing a two-year deal with the Chiefs for Super Rugby.
The hosts did enjoy some nice patches with ball in hand but were far from clinical enough, and no sooner had they gone ahead 6-3 after openside flanker Dan Pryor was sin binned for a high tackle in the 16th minute, the Maori responded immediately when Ambrose Curtis was put away down the left flank, before soon succumbing with a leg injury.
After West’s scrum-earning grubber led to Akira Ioane crashing over beside the posts, a crucial blow was then struck a couple of minutes before halftime, when captain Ash Dixon and Tom Franklin combined for a lineout set-play, which saw the latter coast over.
With a 27-9 advantage at the break, it was just going to be a matter of how much the winning margin would be.
With Tim Bateman the second man binned for a high shot just three minutes into the second half, the Maori took a while to kick away, but in between Canada lock Josh Larsen also getting a yellow for taking Brad Weber in the air at a lineout, they were decisive in their attacks.
Ngatai swooped on a grubber kick and and ran down the left touch from inside his own half, then Stevenson found similar success down that passage with another fine finish, before fellow replacement Jackson GardenBachop went over from close range, and Sean Wainui brought up the half century with a quality burst.
The Maori round out their tour with a match against a French Barbarians side in Bordeaux next Saturday (NZT).
Replacement Jackson Garden-Bachop crosses for one of New Zealand Maori’s seven tries against Canada.