Maori All Blacks triumph as USA Eagles suffer

By Gregor Paul in Chicago

Maori All Blacks 54 USA 7

United States 7
NZ Maori 54

In terms of theatre, it peaked with the haka. The rugby followed a path that was a trifle predictable in that the United States were hanging on early and could only keep their tenuous grip until halftime.

It was never going to be any other way. Not because the US continue to be the giant that won't awake, but because they were shafted by the all-powerful European clubs who refused to release any of the Eagles' best talent.

Of all the games to have to scramble together a team entirely from domestic-based players, this was not the one. Not when the Maori were bolstered by four All Blacks and not when it meant the US scrum was in serious danger of seeing someone badly hurt given the difficulties it had staying together.

It was never really going to matter whether the Maori were able to gel and harness their collective gifts or not.

They were going to do enough damage simply relying on their individual strike power.

That's what took them through the first half and for periods of the second. Some of that individualistic work could be easily excused.

What was Akira Ioane to do, for example, when he ran hard and no one was able or particularly interested in trying to tackle him?

Twice that happened. He simply started running and didn't stop until he was touching down. The ease with which he scored served as a reminder of his raw power and talent and, when he has the ball in hand, he is an incredible weapon.

Those sporadic bursts, though, also pressed the issue about what he was doing in between times. If he wants to make the jump to the All Blacks, he doesn't need to convince the selectors of his running prowess and ball skills. He's got nothing to prove there. But his work rate and desire to be involved in everything needs to shine a little more intently than it currently does.

Younger brother Rieko, on loan from the All Blacks, has those qualities Akira is chasing and, while he made a few errors, he never stopped covering the ground until he started to tire in the last five minutes.

His was a performance that said he's ready to make his All Blacks debut next weekend in Italy if asked. He's such a well put-together athlete who reads the game well and, for someone so young, already has the ability to seemingly put mistakes behind him without dwelling on them.

With his height, defensive strength and ability to flit between wing and centre, he evokes memories of Richard Kahui and also appears to be equally as good under the high ball.

Of equal interest to the All Blacks was the performance of Damian McKenzie, who slipped into first-five for 30 minutes and probed, darted, passed, stepped and looked willing and ready to try anything to break the defence.

Up against an international side, he looked even skinnier and smaller than he normally does but, as always, he threw himself into contact and bounced out as if he'd hit something as forgiving as rubber. If there were any lingering fears about his size being a prohibitive factor at this level, they will have vanished.

McKenzie played his natural game, attacked everything and defended fearlessly. His confidence will have risen as a result no doubt and he is another who will most likely be let loose in Rome next week.

USA 7 (T. Clever try; W. Holder) NZ Maori 54 (J. Lowe 2, A. Ioane 2, A. Dixon, K. Hames, B. Weber, J. Royal tries; I. West 6 cons; M. McKenzie con). Halftime: 0-28.

- NZ Herald

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