Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Balmian Train Derails Maori Tour

It was another momentous night at Welford Road as Tigers ended the Maori's five year 8 game unbeaten run, which has included wins against both England and Ireland to go along with their win against the British Lions in 2005.  The last game they lost?  England A 2007 at Twickenham when a certain Tom Croft romped over from the halfway line.  Obviously Maoris don't like Tigers!

 This was a performance built on the granite foundations of Boris "the finger" Stankovitch and debutant Fraser "gonna shock and amaze yer" Balmain.  20 years old. Debut. Beast.  Louis Deacon was a mighty oak in the second row and his back of steel surely helped Balmian to such an impressive scrummaging performance.  Freed from his duties in the scrum Ed Slater was channeling John Wells in the "F" shirt.  He was everywhere; physical and abrasive, a huge tackle here and a bit of niggle there. 

George Ford kicked all but one of his goals and this cool focus under pressure was the difference between the sides.  Ford is probably the best front runner in the game, and once Tigers got their lead he made sure they rarely looked like losing it.  His tactical kicking was superb throughout as was that of Pat Phibbs, the experienced Australian making his first start for Tigers was a constant thorn in the New Zealanders' side.  

Tigers pulled ahead thanks to a brutally physical first half performance that garnered two tries.  Tigers conceded an early try after hooker Hika Elliot freed the rampaging former All Black Jason Eaton who weaved his way through the Tigers defence before putting scrum half Frae Wilson in for an easy try.  

But a couple cynical penalties from the Maori allowed Tigers back in it straightaway.  Tigers gained the lead they would never relinquish on 12 minutes after some quick thinking and some Maori thuggery.  Ford spotted Niall Morris in acres of space down the Crumbie touchline and quickly kicked the penalty his direction; Morris rounded the winger with a hard hand off and chipped full back Andre Taylor.  As the Irishman raced for the line Taylor hit him with a late no arms tackle for which he was rewarded with a yellow card.

5 minutes later was the decisive act.  A midfield penalty led to a Tigers lineout in the 22; a quick ball released Ford with good ball to attack with.  The tourists midfield was manipulated masterfully by Thompstone, Allen and Tait who freed Niall Morris on the outside to race away sending the Leicester crowd into raptures.

Tigers had their tails up now and Anthony Allen made a classic outside break from his own half, spotting the half gap and vigorously surging through it.  Matt Smith looked for all the world as if he was going in at the corner but was held up short.  Ed Slater, ignoring the perhaps better options outside him, again went close and Tigers drew yet another cynical penalty from the visitors.  This time Kiwi ref Andrew Small left his yellow card in his pocket.  Ford bisected the uprights to give the crucial converted try cushion.

The Maori were still keen to play ball in hand and force risky off loads.  The Tigers defence was immense, intense and never took a backwards step.  Smash and grab was a pretty apt description of Tigers 2nd try.  The Maori was attacking deep in Tigers 22 when a thumping tackle forced the ball loose.  Matt Smith's right boot was first to the ball and he gave it an almighty smack.  The race was on.  Maori wing Kurt Baker looked the early favourite but steaming in from the outside was Adam Thompstone, after evading Baker's disparing lunge Thompstone gathered and finished off with a fabulous swallow dive as the crowd of 17,206 went wild.

Ford converted for a 26-7 lead and the shock win was not only on the cards but starting to look the favourite result.

But the Maori don't posses their fearsome reputation for nothing; after a Ripia penalty reduced the lead to 16 points there was more controversy from Kiwi ref Andrew Small.  After time expired a scrum wheeled round 90 degrees as the Maori finally derailed the Balmain train.  Now by law 20.11 a wheeled scrum is not "re-set" but "new", so by law 5.7 (e) he should have blown for half time.  But he didn't.  Instead he let the Maori have the prime attacking ball from which they duly worked inside centre Tim Bateman over for the try.

Ford edged the Tigers further ahead early in the second half and it was a good job too as the Maori came pouring back.  A yellow card for a clumsy high tackle by, half time substitute, Dan Bowden gave the Maori a man advantage and they immediately made it count.  Tapping the penalty they pulled the Tigers to and fro before working hulking outside centre Charlie Ngatai over in the same corner as Niall Morris scored earlier to reduce the arrears to only 5 points.

This was bum squeaking territory.  This team had dispatched many an international side and were well in with a sniff of victory.

But fortune favours the brave.  Jordan Crane received the ball on his own 10 meter line from a booming clearance.  He took it back up the blindside beating a handful of men before finding winger Adam Thompstone on his outside.  A fantastic chip and catch had Tigers motoring into the Maori 22 and the penalty was inevitable.  Ford focused and drove the ball through the posts to restore the converted try lead at 32-24.

The Tigers defended for their lives, showing the spirit that earned their fore bearers the nickname "The Death or Glory Boys".  Well they laid their lives on the line and were rewarded with glory as Maori attack after Maori attack game to nought.  The final thrust came down the Maori right wing but Niall Morris bundled the attack into touch, as the clock counted down to zero Tigers secured the lineout and Sam Harrison booted the ball out of the ground to seal another famous win against an international touring team.

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