Holah shows O'Driscoll's men meaning of 'mana'

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The Independent Online

They call it "mana" in the land of the Maori. Barely translatable, the word covers the wide range of qualities - aura and presence, authority and respect - with which the Lions found themselves confronted at the Waikato Stadium in the most significant contest of their New Zealand tour to date. They did not even begin to handle this quantum leap in pace, physicality and emotional intensity, and as a result, they were badly beaten. The Maori had any number of contenders for the "mana of the match" award. The Lions offered precisely none.

They call it "mana" in the land of the Maori. Barely translatable, the word covers the wide range of qualities - aura and presence, authority and respect - with which the Lions found themselves confronted at the Waikato Stadium in the most significant contest of their New Zealand tour to date. They did not even begin to handle this quantum leap in pace, physicality and emotional intensity, and as a result, they were badly beaten. The Maori had any number of contenders for the "mana of the match" award. The Lions offered precisely none.

When they received their ceremonial welcome in Rotorua a couple of weekends previously, the Lions encountered what looked like the Maori pack from hell - 15 half-naked, heavily-tattooed, spear-carrying tribal types with an impressive line in war dances. These people may have been putting on a show, but they were not joking. What was more, they were only the warm-up act.

Jono Gibbes, Marty Holah, Corey Flynn, Angus MacDonald, Carl Hayman... the Maori forwards on Saturday made the Rotorua clans look like pacifists. They was no hint of indiscipline about them - the wild excesses came from the tourists, with pride of place in the rogues' gallery going to Andrew Sheridan and Gordon D'Arcy - but by God, they were motivated. Gibbes, a leader of genuine stature, was in tears at the end, having seen his revered coach Matt Te Pou and his wonderful outside-half Carlos Spencer disappear into the wide blue yonder with a first-ever victory over a British Isles side tucked away in their luggage. As Gibbes said: "I didn't have to say anything before the game. Everyone just knew."

One of the few Lions forwards to make the remotest sense of life amongst the Maori, the three-time tourist Richard Hill, was characteristically succinct in his take on events. "With all due respect to them - and they commanded our respect - it was an easy scenario for them in terms of getting up for the game," he said. "The Maori are a team built on heritage and pride, and they were very aware that many of their outstanding predecessors had never been given the opportunity of playing against a Lions side. All this was to their advantage. It is time now for us to look at our own levels of intensity."

The tourists were skinned alive on the floor, principally by Holah. Wherever the Lions have been on this trip, they have encountered a breakaway flanker of serious calibre and it will be the same story wherever they go. Ben Herring of Wellington is said to be top-notch, Josh Blackie of Otago is terrific, Daniel Braid of Auckland is nobody's fool. And the All Blacks? They have some bloke by the name of McCaw.

Holah was quite brilliant on Saturday, hard as Martyn Williams worked to match him. Amid the dying embers of a fiery contest the 28-year-old local hero made one last intervention by wrapping up Matt Dawson on the floor and forcing him into conceding the penalty that ensured the Lions' late surge would come to nothing. If ever a single act defined a game, that one did.

Brian O'Driscoll, the Lions captain, said that while his side had been well beaten - "This is the hardest rugby many of us will ever play," he said - a positive spin could be applied, in so far as his side were never in the game yet lost by only six points. Despite spending 75 per cent of the game on their backsides, they restricted the Maori to a single try from Leon MacDonald, manufactured by Spencer early in the final quarter. It was O'Driscoll himself who came up with a reply of sorts, haring over at the sticks in the last minute of normal time.

But while the Lions defended with considerable bravery - Hill and Williams made well over 30 tackles between them - much of the rest of their game was shambolic. They were no great shakes at the line-out, they offered little with ball in hand and their tactical kicking was off-radar. Only in the scrum, where Andrew Sheridan and Julian White established a degree of control in the 20 minutes before half-time, did they look the part, and even that phase levelled out once Sir Clive Woodward decided not to reintroduce Sheridan after 10 minutes spent in the cooler.

It was a peculiar call, to say the least, made all the more peculiar by Woodward's reluctance to explain himself. Was it a question of disciplining Sheridan for throwing a wild right-hander at Luke McAlister smack in front of two of the three officials? Had the Sale prop suffered another problem with his right ankle? Had Woodward decided to hold him back for the Tests? Whatever the reason, Sheridan's absence did nothing to aid the Lions.

The only Englishmen likely to celebrate the events of Saturday are those associated with the Northampton club, for Spencer has agreed to play at Franklin's Gardens next season. Right now, though, the Lions are grateful that they are unlikely to see him, or Holah for that matter, for the rest of what now looks like the most demanding of trips.

Maori: Try L MacDonald; Conversions McAlister; Penalties Hill 2, McAlister 2. Lions: Try O'Driscoll. Conversions Jones. Penalties Jones 2.

NEW ZEALAND MAORI: L MacDonald (Canterbury); R Gear (Nelson Bays), R Tipoki (Waikato), L McAlister (North Harbour), C Ralph (Canterbury); D Hill (Waikato), P Weepu (Wellington); D Manu (Waikato), C Flynn (Canterbury), C Hayman (Otago), R Filipo (Wellington), S Hohneck (Waikato), J Gibbes (Waikato, capt), M Holah (Waikato), A MacDonald (Auckland). Replacements: C Spencer (Auckland) for Hill 43; G Feek (Canterbury) for Manu 54; D Braid (Auckland) for Filipo 75.

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: J Lewsey (Wasps & England); T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues & Wales), B O'Driscoll (Leinster & Ireland, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster & Ireland), S Williams (Ospreys & Wales); S Jones (Clermont Auvergne & Wales), M Dawson (Wasps & England); A Sheridan (Sale & England), S Thompson (Northampton & England), J White (Leicester & England), S Shaw (Wasps & England), P O'Connell (Munster & Ireland), R Hill (Saracens & England), M Williams (Cardiff Blues & Wales), M Owen (Newport-Gwent Dragons & Wales).

Replacements: S Horgan (Leinster & Ireland) for D'Arcy 22-30; R O'Gara (Munster & Ireland) for Jones 31-39; G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues & Wales) for Owen 41; Owen for Sheridan 50; S Byrne (Leinster & Ireland) for Thompson 75.

Referee: S Walsh (New Zealand).

NEW ZEALAND MAORI 19

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 13

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