Regional | Māori All Blacks

Māori All Blacks stun Ireland 32-17 in tour opener

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Ireland has gone down 32-17 to the Māori All Blacks in the first match of their southern hemisphere tour in Waikato this evening, the home side dedicating their performance to their late teammate Sean Wainui (Ngāi Tuhoe), who died last year.

Some clumsy start-stop play early on was thrown out by an unrelenting Māori attack halfway into the first half, which saw a 24-point blitz from the Māori ABs.

Full-back Zarn Sullivan didn’t fail to impress on debut, opening the Māori AB’s try-scoring 17 minutes in, followed later by Shaun Stevenson, Brad Weber and Cullen Grace, all adding points to the board within 15 minutes of each other.

Josh Ioane sorted the side’s three conversions and two penalties.

The game marked a special moment for Sullivan with brother Bailyn coming off the bench for the siblings' first game together.

On the back foot Ireland captain Bundee Aki scored the tourist’s first try in the 21st minute, with a Gavin Coombes try going some way to levelling up the scoreboard in the 67th minute, both tries converted by Ciaran Frawley.

The Māori ABs last beat Ireland in 2010, but the two sides’ history goes back over a century.

Ireland was the first international team the NZ Natives (as Māori ABs were then known) ever played.

Back in 1888 the Māori ABs beat tonight’s tourists in the Emerald Isle, four tries to two.

The most powerful moment for players and the 10,000-strong spectators probably came during the game's opening, rather than with the scoreboard, after late Māori All Blacks star Sean Wainui was remembered by the two teams.

Bundee Aki, placed a No 11 Ireland jersey (Wainui's position for much of his career) on the field, moments before the Māori All Blacks performed a stirring Tīmatanga haka.

Wainui's wife Paige, the pair’s son Kawariki and daughter Arahia collected the jersey on the fallen player’s behalf.

Ireland next takes to the pitch Saturday against the All Blacks at Eden Park.