In the end the accomplished New Zealand Māori side skipped out to a 35-3 victory in their historic clash in Sao Paulo on Sunday (NZT), but not before they were given a heck of a challenge from the world’s 26th-ranked rugby nation who trailed just 14-0 at halftime, .
Brazil, the world’s most renowned football country, is a minnow in international rugby. But on the strength of a gritty, committed and quite skilful effort in this first ever clash against the Māori, they are an emerging force worth keeping an eye on.
The rain that fell throughout this clash at a half-full Estádio do Morumbi probably helped their cause, but the Brazilians showed plenty as they won the scrum contest decisively and proved more than competitive across the board as they limited their celebrated visitors to just five tries, four of which were scored by the forwards.
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The Māori just couldn’t get their trademark ball-in-hand game going in the slippery conditions and were largely frustrated in their attempts to create the continuity rugby they are so adept at.
But the visiting forwards, well led by Ash Dixon, muscled up well, and scored three tries from driving mauls off lineouts and another via the pick-and-go attack. Otere Black weighed in with a perfect goalkicking display in the wet and by game end the Maori finally unleashed a back attack to put wing Jonah Lowe across in the corner.
The Māori found themselves in an arm-wrestle through a surprisingly competitive first 40 minutes, being held to just two tries, both via the lineout drive route, and a 14-0 advantage.
Lock Isaia Walker-Leawere scored the first after just three minutes when the Māori went to the big drive from a lineout and skipper Dixon added the second, via an identical fashion, a dozen minutes before the break.
But for the remainder of the opening term in a contest played out in persistent rain the home side gave a mighty account of themselves, even muscling up to hold the Māori at bay in a 10-minute period while hooker Wilton Rebolo was in the bin for a dangerous tackle.
Brazil, ranked 26th in the world, made their tackles, held firm at the set piece and even took on the New Zealanders at times with ball in hand in what was an encouraging opening spell.
Their resistance continued after the break when skipper Felipe Sancery put in a try-saving tackle on Shaun Stevenson and then Kiwi Josh Reeves slotted a penalty – his team’s only score – following a monster home scrum that pushed the Māori set piece back 20 metres.
But the visitors recovered their poise. Bryn Hall went close off toed-through ball but was denied via the TMO, then Dixon was across for his second off another big driving maul, Jackson Hemopo powered over off the pick-and-go attack and, finally, some good work from Walker-Leawere and replacements Matt Proctor and Josh Ioane put Lowe in for No 5.
The win went to the Māori; but many of the plaudits to a plucky Brazilian outfit.
NZ Māori 35 (Isaia Walker-Leawere, Ash Dixon 2, Jackson Hemopo, Jonah Lowe tries; Otere Black 5 conversions), Brazil 3 (Josh Reeves pen). Ht: 14-0.