The Maori All Blacks piled on 17 unanswered second-half points to steal a 27-26 victory over Fiji at Suva’s National Stadium on Saturday.
The win extended their 12-year unbeaten run against full international sides to 19 matches, but it took a solid second-half effort to secure the win after Fiji led 26-10 at halftime.
Maori Captain Charlie Ngatai said Fiji worked hard to shut down the Maori All Blacks in the opening 40 minutes.
“They trapped us in that first half, stuck us in our own half and we couldn’t get out,” he said afterwards.
“We had to get the ball down their end, and build pressure and phases and hold onto the ball.”
Fiji came out firing from the first whistle, with centre Vereniki Goneva setting up the first try after barely two minutes when he sliced through the midfield before finding fullback Kini Murimurivalu out wide.
Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo missed the conversion for Fiji but his 13th-minute penalty extended the margin to 8-0 before Marty McKenzie nailed a penalty of his own at the 20-minute mark.
Nadolo restored the margin three minutes later with another penalty, only for the Maori All Blacks to hit back with a try to Rieko Ioane.
The 18-year-old winger powered over from an attacking scrum with Fiji a man down after flanker Malakai Ravulo was sin-binned as the half-hour mark neared.
However, No.8 Blade Thomson’s yellow card soon after evened the numbers, and Nadolo knocked over another penalty before crossing for his 15th Test try five minutes from halftime.
Fijian skipper Akapusi Qera extended the lead in the last minute before the break. He was unstoppable from close range in barrelling straight through the Maori defence.
With Nadolo sidelined through injury, first five-eighth Josh Matavesi slotted the conversion to give the home team a 26-10 halftime lead.
A 40m Marty McKenzie penalty kickstarted an up-tempo second half from the Maori All Blacks, while brother Damian’s elusive running and explosive speed was rewarded with a try after 51 minutes.
They hit the front 27-26 with less than 10 minutes remaining when Highlanders loose forward Elliot Dixon crashed over and Otere Black added the extras to steal the lead at exactly the right time.