Maori edge past Fiji in Lautoka

(IRB.COM) Saturday 14 June 2008
 Maori edge past Fiji in Lautoka
Fiji just missed out on a historic victory against New Zealand Maori - Photo: Bruce Southwick/Zoomfiji

All Black second row Jason Eaton scored a crucial second half try to clinch a 11-7 IRB Pacific Nations Cup victory for the New Zealand Maori over a plucky Fiji side in Lautoka on Saturday.

Eaton burst through the Fiji defence from a lineout midway through the second half to give the Maoris an 8-7 lead in torrential conditions as a storm turned the pitch into a quagmire and then a Callum Bruce penalty killed off any chances of Fiji's first victory over the Maoris since 1951.

A 36th-minute try by Fiji centre Sireli Naqelevuki, following an early penalty for the Maoris from co-captain Tamati Ellison, sent the home side into half-time with a 7-3 advantage. The impressive Naqelevuki showed great skills to charge down a clearing kick from Maori half back Craig Smyllie after Fiji had pressed the New Zealanders into a long period of defence, and beat all defenders to the ball.

With conditions dictating in the second half, tries were a rarity but Eaton, who was impressive throughout , took the ball from a lineout near the line and waded through three tackles to score.

Full back Taniela Rawaqa missed a close-range penalty in the 64th minute which would have put Fiji in front, but Bruce slotted his only kick at goal minutes from full time to give the Maoris a four-point margin, leaving the home team needing a try to win.

Fiji spent the last moments of the match on the attack but were unable to break the tough Maori defence as the New Zealanders held on for their second IRB Pacific Nations Cup victory.