Rugby: NZ Maori subdue stubborn Samoa

New Zealand Maori preserved their unbeaten record in the Pacific Nations Cup rugby tournament in Hamilton tonight, ruggedly subduing a frustrated Manu Samoa 17-6 at Waikato Stadium.

The Maori shaded the forward arm wrestle in a muscular opening half and when they occasionally gave the ball some air they were rewarded despite some resolute and borderline defence from the Samoans, who remained winless after three rounds.

Tries to Callum Bruce and Piri Weepu gave the Maori a 17-0 halftime buffer, an advantage Samoa never threatened to overhaul - and Maori rarely looked like adding to.

At odds with Australian referee Ian Smith from the outset, Samoa's hard-hitting reputation seemed to precede them as the visitors were frequently pinged for innocuous infringements during a stop-start opening spell.

Bruce opened the scoring after a minor lineout obstruction though Samoa could not complain when they were temporarily reduced to 14 men when lock Chad Slade was yellow carded in the 19th minute.

Slade, offside at a maul, essentially paid for the sins of two teammates who could also have been penalised during the Maori side's first concerted attack deep in Samoan territory.

Maori opted to keep the pressure on by kicking for the line but the undermanned Samoans held firm until eight minutes into Slade's suspension when Bruce deftly grubber-kicked into the unpatrolled dead ball area and narrowly beat teammate Tim Bateman to the touchdown.

Samoa avoided further penalty while Slade sat on the sideline but sustained a hammer blow on the cusp of halftime when loose forwards Liam Messam and Thomas Waldrom made telling ground before No 8 Waldrom released his Wellington teammate and former All Blacks halfback Weepu on an unimpeded run to the line.

Smith awarded the score despite the transfers between Messam and Waldrom and the killer pass to Weepu appearing a touch forward.

Samoa had to wait 45 minutes for a favourable decision and Gavin Williams duly broke their duck with a sweetly struck 46-metre penalty goal.

Williams slotted another three-pointer in the 64th minute but the visitors incurred Smith's wrath again seven minutes from time when confrontational second five-eighth Anitelea Tuilagi was yellow carded for a late block on Weepu after the halfback had spilled the ball.

New Zealand Maori featured 10 personnel and positional changes from the side that beat Fiji in the Lautoka swamp last weekend and a lack of cohesion was again evident as they primarily subscribed to a no-frills forward orientated approach.

Samoa also adhered to a conservative game plan, seemingly content to bash around the fringes and leave their backline as virtual spectators until they belatedly went expansive in the final quarter.

Former Kiwis and New Zealand Warriors rugby league wing Henry Fa'afili - in just his third test - looked dangerous the few times he was given some latitude while Tuilagi had a willing defensive battle with opposite Tamati Ellison.

New Zealand Maori host Japan in Napier next Saturday while Samoa face Tonga in Nuku'alofa.

- NZPA


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