Former All Black lock Jason Eaton scored a crucial second-half try to secure a nail-biting 11-7 win for New Zealand Maori against Fiji in their Pacific Nations Cup clash yesterday.
Fiji had an advantage in possession and territory and went into the second half with a 7-3 lead after a pre-match storm left water on the ground, blew a roof off a temporary stand and ended any prospect of a high scoring contest.
Fiji’s powerful forward pack dominated long stretches of the match and Maori coach Donny Stevenson came close to regretting his decision to make 10 changes from last week’s 20-9 win over Tonga.
But the replacement of halfback Chris Smylie early in the second half by former All Black Piri Weepu reignited the Maori team.
They hit the lead after Eaton snaffled the ball from a Fiji line-out near the try line and forced his way over for a try in the 58th minute.
Maori inside center Tamati Ellison opened the scoring in the 12th minute with an easy penalty, but Fiji fullback Taniela Rawaqa had a poor day with the boot, missing all three penalty attempts.
From the 20th minute it was the Fijians who got on top and they came close to scoring after winger Timoci Nagusa broke down the right wing before being forced into touch less than 10m from the try line.
But sustained pressure in the Maori 22, as the visitors failed in their attempts to run the ball out of the danger zone, paid off with a try to big outside center Sireli Naqelevuki after 35 minutes.
Smylie tried to clear from a breakdown right on the try line, but Naqelevuki charged down the kick and touched down for a try converted by Rawaqa.
The Maori team started to get on top in the second half after Weepu’s appearance, with Eaton’s try securing them a slim one point lead.
Replacement back Callum Bruce gave New Zealand Maori a more comfortable four point buffer with an easy penalty with just five minutes remaining.
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