SANTA CLARA, Calif. --The New Zealand Maori held a 12-3 lead at halftime, but Ireland A seemed to come to life early in the second half when Robert Kearney nailed a drop goal from nearly midfield to pull the Irish within six, 12-6. It wasn't enough as the Maori were able to break away from a strong Ireland A squad earned a trip to the Barclays Churchill Cup Final against Scotland A with a 27-6 win in front 4,106 rugby fans here at Buck Shaw Stadium Saturday.
With the England Saxons defeating Canada (41-11) in Toronto Saturday, it sets up and England/Ireland A Plate Final while the USA will play Canada in the Bowl Final. All finals will be played in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium next Saturday, June 17.
"It was tough and Ireland played really well today. They played with a lot of pride and passion, and their defense was outstanding. It was a very physical game, and we have a few boys with some bumps and bruises and the referee had a big influence on the game, said Maori assistant coach Stu Forster.
The game was a seesaw battle over field position throughout the match. The Irish had their opportunities for tries in the opening half, but were stymied by unforced errors.
New Zealand Maori broke through in the ninth minute with a 40-meter dash along the left touchline by fullback Shannon Paku that was set up by a great offload from Hosea Gear.
The Maori made it a 10-0 lead with a try off a scrum near the Irish 22-meter line and eightman Liam Messam, the eventual Man of the Match, picked the ball from the back of the scrum and powered his way for the score.
Ireland A was able to put some points on the board near the end of the half with a penalty goal in the 38th minute from flyhalf Paddy Wallace to bring the score to 12-3 at the intermission.
The Irish came out of halftime the way they went in, and scored two minutes into the second half with a 50-meter drop goal by right wing Robert Kearney to pull his squad within six, 12-6. But a Maori penalty kick by Callum Bruce would put the lead back to nine, 15-6.
The match turned into a battle over field position for the last 30 minutes of the game, with the Irish missing two penalties in that span.
New Zealand Maori finally broke the match open with nine minutes to play with a try by right wing Hosea Gear and another try with two minutes later with a break by replacement Thomas Waldrom to dampen the Irish spirits on the afternoon.
"We always knew it was going to be difficult as once the game opens up they very dangerous," said Mike Bradley, Ireland A Head Coach. "We wanted to keep it as controlled as possible, and we did that for 60 minutes. We created loads of opportunities and so I am just disappointed that we didn't take many of them. In the last 20 minutes, when we went down to 14 men, it was just too big an ask and the Maori scored a couple of well-deserved tries."
Saturday's Churchill Cup games will be broadcast, on a tape delay basis, on Sunday, June 11 beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET on ESPNU. They will also be available via streamline or download on Sunday at 4 p.m. (ET) on Media Zone's Rugby Channel.
"It was messy out there at times, and we have a lot of work to do before next week," said Man of the Match Liam Messam.
2006 BARCLAYS CHURCHILL CUP
Buck Shaw Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
FINAL: New Zealand Maori def. Ireland A, 27-6 (Halftime, NZ Maori, 12-3)
NEW ZEALAND MAORI (27)
Tries: Paku (1), Messam (1), Gear (1), Waldrom (1)
Conversions: Bruce (1), Berquist (1)
Penalty Goals: Bruce (1)
Penalty Goals: Wallace (1)
Drop Goals: Robert Kearney (1)
Referee: Andrew Small (England)
NEW ZEALAND MAORI: 15. Shannon Paku; 14. Anthony Tahana (Cory Jane @73); 13. Richard Kahui; 12. Neil Brew; 11. Hosea Gear; 10. Callum Bruce (Matt Berquist @68); 9. Chris Smylie (Corey Tamou @74); 1. Joe McDonnell; 2. Scott Linklater (Luke Mahoney @51); 3. Deacon Manu (Mike Noble @55); 4.Kristian Ormsby (Thomas Waldrom @60) 5. Paul Tito; 6. Jono Gibbes (capt.); 7. Tanerau Latimer; 8. Liam Messam (Jake Paringatai @74).
IRELAND A: 15. Bryn Cunningham; 14. Simon Keogh; 13. Kieran Lewis (Eoghan Hickey @64); 12. David Quinlan; 11. Robert Kearney (Neil McMillan @76); 10. Paddy Wallace; 9. Chris Keane (Tomas O'Leary @45); 1. Ray Hogan (Ronan McCormack @53); 2. John Fogarty (Brian Blaney @75); 3. Tom Court (Declan Fitzpatrick @75); 4. Trevor Hogan; 5. Matt McCullough; 6. Roger Wilson; 7. Shane Jennings (capt.); 8. Jamie Heaslip.