Rugby Union: England's Bay of Emptiness

Maoris 62 England 14
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The Independent Online
THE BAY of Plenty groundstaff played "We'll Meet Again" as England, tails firmly between their legs, bade an inglorious farewell to Rotorua yesterday. Another meeting with the Maoris is the last thing on earth the tourists need but in one sense, the Vera Lynn connection was entirely appropriate. This was a blitz, pure and simple, and the reconstruction work on this generation of red rose apprentices will take an awfully long time to complete.

As Errol Brain, the Maoris captain, acknowledged after the B Test calamity of a desperate southern hemisphere trek - on average, England have lost their five matches to date by the excruciating margin of 54-13 - some members of the squad may never recover from the experience. "In New Zealand, we surround new players with guys who have been there and done a bit," the Counties No 8 said. "I think this will have a bad effect on one or two, for sure."

Barring a couple of notable exceptions - Tony Diprose, for instance, proved once and for all that he can indeed hack it in the trenches as well as the wide open spaces - England were at their most shambolic against a Maori outfit unbeaten in five years and 15 matches. No one remotely expected the tourists to win but equally, no one expected quite so many well-paid, professional players to disappear off the face of New Zealand's north island.

Brian Ashton, placed in charge of the midweek side, was forced into taking the previously unheard of step of substituting both half-backs, Peter Richards and Alex King, with more than half an hour left on the clock. Tim Stimpson and Matt Moore suffered the entire catalogue of defensive humiliations against a direct and dynamic Maori back division; depressingly, even the Gloucester boys were as quiet as church mice. Phil Greening was as disappointing yesterday as he had been magnificent in Hamilton 10 days previously.

Ashton was in no mood for excuses. "These New Zealanders are playing a totally different game to the one we play in England," he said. "For a start, they use the whole of the pitch rather than the 35 per cent we bother with back home. The other difference, of course, is one of conditioning. To my mind, there is not a great gulf in terms of cardiovascular fitness. There is, though, no comparison in terms of explosive power. Make a half- tackle against these blokes and you quickly find that you've made no tackle at all."

Indeed, there were no English tackles worthy of the name; "We missed 24, they missed four," muttered Diprose, whose captaincy, handling, ball- carrying and general enthusiasm under extreme duress confirmed him as a loose forward of international class. The first batch of defensive cock- ups came early as Lewis Moody and Tony Windo waved through Daryl Gibson in midfield. So clean was his break that Jim Coe was able to gallop over unmolested from the best part of 30 metres. Coe, by the way, is a 34-year- old lock.

With the brilliant Troy Flavell defining the Maori forward effort with the aggression of his close-quarter running and Rhys Duggan combining dangerously with Tony Brown at half-back, the locals were certainties by the break. Brown ghosted away from the uncertain King for the second try, while Norm Berryman, a deeply disturbing cross between Jonah Lomu, Va'aiga Tuigamala and a tank, added a third from distance. Just to make matters worse, England lost Richard Pool-Jones, their proud and committed flanker, with ankle problems shortly before the interval.

Berryman was at it again within five minutes of the restart, leaving Moody and Moore in his not inconsiderable wake as he steamrollered his way over from half-way. Then it was Dallas Seymour, followed by Duggan, followed by Adrian Cashmore, Tony Marsh and Roger Randle; try after try, each perfect execution unhindered and uninterrupted by the English whipping boys.

Jos Baxendell, switched to outside-half from outside centre to fill in for King, at least showed enough inventive touches to challenge for a starting place against the All Blacks on Saturday. Indeed, the maverick risk-taker from Sale contributed the single most accomplished touch of the night, chipping the ball over the Maori defence with his right knee rather than his right boot to create a late try for Spencer Brown.

There was not much else to shout about, apart from Diprose's deserved score on the final whistle. Perhaps the only Englishman with a smile on his face was Danny Grewcock, the Saracens lock dismissed for kicking during last weekend's Test in Dunedin. The tour management will not appeal against his five-week suspension, a decision which gives him carte blanche to catch the first flight home. Damn his luck.

New Zealand Maoris: Tries Berryman 2, Coe, Brown, Seymour, Duggan, Cashmore, Marsh, Randle; Conversions Cashmore 7; Penalty Cashmore. England: Tries Brown, Diprose; Conversions Stimpson 2.

NEW ZEALAND MAORIS: A Cashmore (Auckland); R Randle (Waikato), N Berryman (Northland), A Marsh (Counties), D Gibson (Otago); A Brown (Otago), R Duggan (Waikato); K Nepia (Canterbury), S McFarlane (North Harbour), K Meeuws (Otago), J Coe (Counties), T Flavell (North Harbour), A Parker (Canterbury), E Brain (Counties, capt), D Seymour (Wellington). Replacements: J Kerr (Canterbury) for Gibson, h-t; D Waller (Manawatu) for Parker, 63; L Lidgard (Counties) for Nepia, 70; D Muir (Waikato) for Flavell, 77.

ENGLAND: T Stimpson (Leicester); S Brown (Richmond), J Baxendell (Sale), S Ravenscroft (Saracens), M Moore (Sale); A King (Wasps), P Richards (London Irish); A Windo (Gloucester), P Greening (Gloucester), D Crompton (Richmond), R Fidler (Gloucester), B Sturnham (Bath), R Pool-Jones (Stade Francais), A Diprose (Saracens, capt), L Moody (Leicester). Replacements: S Ojomoh (Gloucester) for Pool-Jones, 38; S Benton (Gloucester) for Richards, 47; T Beim (Sale) for King, 47.

Referee: P McFie (Southland).