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Agony as battling Irish fall just short against Maori

Ireland's shadow team ended up on the wrong side of a 31-28 scoreline at the end of a remarkable match against the New Zealand Maoris this morning at Rotorua.

They produced a remarkable comeback, recovering from an 18-3 deficit at the end of the first quarter to lead 25-18 a minute into the second period.

Fly-half Jonathan Sexton reign supreme, landing eight out of eight kicks off the tee – seven penalties and the conversion of the excellent Paddy Wallace’s try – to leave the scores deadlocked at 28-28 with 14 minutes remaining.

But he blotted his otherwise perfect copybook in the final throes of what was a pulsating battle, missing a 75th minute pot at the posts which, had he landed it, would have tied the scores at 31 points apiece.

It was harsh on Sexton and on the Irish side, several of whom made very good cases for themselves ahead of the final match of their three-fixture tour against Australia in Brisbane next weekend.

Centre Wallace certainly will have given coach Declan Kidney food for thought over the next few days, as will lock Ed O’Donoghue whose contribution all over the pitch was a highlight.

Nor did Chris Henry do himself any harm in the course of his shift before making way for David Wallace for the final 15 minutes.

And 19-year-old Rhys Ruddock did enough to suggest that he has a long future as an Irish international ahead.

The opening exchanges suggested that Ireland might be in line for a similar mauling as that suffered in the previous outing against the All Blacks-proper, who ran in nine tries.

The Maoris scored two tries in the first 13 minutes as they enjoyed 79% of the possession.

Wing Hosea Gear and centre Dwayne Sweeney bagged those, with full-back Luke McAlister – who had opened the hosts’ account with a third minute penalty – converting the second of the brace.

A Sexton penalty was initially shell-shocked Ireland’s muted response and McAlister promptly cancelled that out to make it 18-3 after 20 minutes.

But the Irish reply stunned the Maoris whose loss of discipline was punished by the immaculate Sexton who struck with five penalties in 12 minutes to leave it all-square at 18-18 on half-time.

The New Zealanders were rocked even more when, less than a minute into the second half, Wallace powered through following a great exchange with captain, Geordan Murphy. Sexton, inevitably, converted.

Remarkably it was 25-18.

McAlister replied with his third penalty, but then missed two in quick succession. It was starting to look like Ireland’s day.

But with 63 minutes gone Maori wing Sean Maitland launched a counter-attack from his own 22, beating four Irish players. Karl Lowe applied the finish after the ball was moved to the left and fellow-replacement William Ripia converted to put his side 28-25 up.

Sexton equalised with a 66th minute penalty, only for Ripia to answer in kind with seven minutes remaining, thereby clinching a notable victory for the home side.

New Zealand Maoris: Robinson, Maitland, Sweeney, McAlister, Gear, Brett, Smith, Murray, Flynn, Afeaki, Triggs, Hoeata, Messam, Latimer, Bourke. Replacements: Coles, Newlands, Graham, Lowe, Tipuna, Ripia, Willison.

Ireland: G Murphy, S Horgan, G Duffy, P Wallace, J Murphy, J Sexton, E Reddan, M Horan, J Fogarty, T Court, E O'Donoghue, D Tuohy, R Ruddock, N Ronan, C Henry. Replacements: S Cronin, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, D Wallace, P Stringer, R O'Gara, R Kearney.

Referee: M Lawrence (South Africa).

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