Johnson 'grumpy' after Maori move up a Gear and leave England trailing

New Zealand Maori 35 England XV 28
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The Independent Online

England had seen enough of the All Black wing Rico Gear down the years to fear what might be called an "extra Gear" in the shape of his younger brother, Hosea. They were dead right to be alarmed. The 26-year-old from Gisborne ran the tourists ragged before a capacity crowd in Napier yesterday, claiming three of the four tries that secured a full house of victories for the Maori in their centenary season. Joe Rokocoko, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Cory Jane, Zac Guildford... and now this bloke. Help.

If Martin Johnson's second-string side managed three tries of their own, they were firmly of the "after the Lord Mayor's Show" variety: a fortunate follow-up score for Steffon Armitage, a tap-and-go effort from Danny Care and an easy run-in for Chris Ashton from a Charlie Hodgson interception. By comparison, the Maori five-pointers were works of rugby art. One of them, Gear's first, bordered on the magical.

"If you let these people play," Johnson said afterwards, "they'll kill you. If you're going to beat them, it's about putting them under pressure and keeping them under pressure. This defeat rankles with me because having applied that pressure in the first half and scored 28 points, we lost our composure. Defensively, we were poor at times, and when you allow the Maori to run, you get what we got. International rugby is brutal. If individuals don't do their jobs, the team will be exposed. Some didn't do their jobs well enough. I'm a bit grumpy."

That grumpiness may extend into next week, when he is due to name his Elite Player Squad, selecting 32 from around 50 contenders. If it does, there will be some heavy fallers. "Promotion for some means relegation for others," Johnson remarked. "The reason we came here was to find out things we didn't know."

Delon Armitage had another rough time of it at full-back while Mathew Tait, restored to the outside centre position after Dominic Waldouck failed a fitness test, found space hard to come by. David Strettle? He was Gear's direct opponent.

There was rather more to admire about the England forwards, who used the scrums to ram their opponents' heads into places where the sun rarely shines. That set-piece superiority gave Chris Robshaw, the captain, a platform from which to catch the eye and there were good moments from the props, David Flatman and Paul Doran-Jones.

It came as no great shock to the Maori that England, 13-0 up after nine minutes and 28-17 to the good at the break, ended up dominating the scrum and nothing else. "We started poorly: the side needed to go through a calming process when the game kicked off," explained their coach Jamie Joseph.

Gear's second and third strikes came within six minutes of the restart. That put the Maori ahead for the second time, and two late penalties from Willie Ripia closed the deal.

And so it was that England ended the most demanding end-of-season trip in a dozen years all square: two hard-won victories, two defeats and a draw. "There was some scepticism as to what we'd take from this, but it's been extremely valuable," Johnson said. The sceptics are still out there but the last three weeks could certainly have been worse.

New Zealand Maori Tries: Gear 3, Messam; Conversions: McAlister 3. Penalties: Ripia 2, McAlister.

England Tries: S Armitage, Care, Ashton. Conversions: Hodgson 2. Penalties: Hodgson 3.

New Zealand Maori R Robinson; S Maitland, D Sweeney, L McAlister, H Gear; S Brett, A Smith; C Newland, C Flynn, B Afeaki, H Triggs, J Hoeata, K Lowe, T Latimer, L Messam (capt). Replacements: Murray, Tipuna, Coles, Bourke, Ross Ripia.

England XV D Armitage (London Irish); D Strettle (Harlequins), M Tait (Sale), B Barritt (Saracens), C Ashton (Northampton); C Hodgson (Sale), D Care (Harlequins); D Flatman (Bath), G Chuter (Leicester), P Doran-Jones (Gloucester), D Attwood (Gloucester), G Parling (Leicester), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), S Armitage (London Irish), P Dowson (Northampton).

Replacements S Geraghty (Northampton) for Hodgson 47; R Webber (Wasps) for Chuter 47; B Youngs (Leicester) for Care 61; D Ward-Smith (Wasps) for Attwood 61; J Haskell (Stade Francais) for S Armitage 61; D Cole (Leicester) for Doran-Jones 62; B Foden (Northampton) for Tait 69.

Referee C Joubert (South Africa).

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