Leicester Tigers secure historic 32-24 victory over Maori All Blacks
Leicester Tigers took the scalp of the Maori All Blacks 32-24 on another historic night of international rugby at Welford Road.
An electrifying first half saw Leicester go into the break with a 26-17 lead on the back of tries from Niall Morris and Adam Thompstone.
With George Ford pulling the strings at fly-half and nailing eight of 10 kicks at goal, the result was never really in doubt, despite the gap being reduced to five points with 20 minutes to go.
With Mat Tait having a big influence from full-back on his first start in 13 months and young prop Fraser Balmain putting in a superb shift in a dominant scrum, there were huge positives for director of rugby Richard Cockerill.
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The night began in exhilarating fashion with the world-famous Kiwi haka.
The war dance had the Welford Road crowd captivated and contained a very Maori slant with far more to it than the usual All Blacks' version.
It ended with the Maori in a dart shape facing the hosts, who stood firm on the half-way line, staring long and hard at the visitors until long after it had finished.
Leicester took that aggression into the early stages of the game and Ford gave them a 3-0 lead after just two minutes.
The Maori wasted no time in showcasing their ball-handling skills and running lines with a gorgeous try, scored by Frae Wilson but made by lock Jason Eaton's lovely back-handed offload.
Ford almost immediately brought it back to 7-6 and Tigers could have scored their opening try as the 19-year-old's perfectly-weighted cross-field kick found Niall Morris and the Irishman chipped the last defender, only to be shoulder barged off the ball.
It resulted in a yellow card for full-back Andre Taylor and Ford put Leicester ahead.
There was no stopping Morris on 17 minutes, however, as fast hands from Ford and Matt Smith put him free in the corner.
Ford continued his impressive comeback from his nightmare against the Saints with a touchline conversion and Tigers led 16-7.
The Maori should have seen their second yellow card of the night when lock Jarrad Hoeata lay all over the ball two metres from his own line after Morris' 60-metre break. But only a penalty came of it, which Ford took with open arms.
By now, the home side were playing some lovely stuff and winger Adam Thompstone lit up the night with a thrilling try after showing some serious pace to win the race to Smith's hack forward from broken play.
Ford's conversion made it 26-7 but a late comeback by the visitors kept the game alive as a Willie Ripia penalty and Tim Bateman's first-phase try on the whistle made it 26-17 at the break.
Ford extended Leicester's advantage early in the second half and by now, the teenager was exuding confidence as Leicester dominated.
But on a rare Maori break, Tigers very own Kiwi, Dan Bowden, was sin-binned for killing the ball only minutes after coming on as a substitute.
The visitors made the most of their numerical advantage and Charlie Ngatai dived over after a big overlap on the right.
At 29-24, and with a quarter left to play, it was anyone's game. But then the Maori suffered their second yellow card as serial offender Hoeata was binned.
Ford added his sixth penalty to make it an eight-point buffer and with their defence holding firm and superbly marshalled by Anthony Allen, Tigers hung on for a memorable victory.