Rugby-Maori All Blacks strike early to beat Ireland in tour match

(Reuters) - The Maori All Blacks welcomed Ireland to New Zealand with a first-half try blitz on their way to a 32-17 victory over the tourists at a rain-soaked Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Wednesday.

Fullback Zarn Sullivan, winger Shaun Stevenson, scrumhalf Brad Weber and number eight Cullen Grace all crossed on the back of some dazzling running rugby to give the hosts an imposing 32-10 lead at the break.

Ireland hit back hard at the start of the second half and twice had players held up over the line before number eight Gavin Coombes finally got the ball down in the 67th minute.

The tourists already had a try from captain Bundee Aki off a well-worked lineout move in the first half but never looked like overhauling the Maori lead.

"We were encouraged to have a crack," said Maori co-captain Weber.

"We just wanted to show a bit of flair and play at a speed that we would hope that Ireland couldn't handle. It was just fun to be a part of man."

Ireland will have concerns about the fitness of veteran prop Cian Healy, who was carried off the field with a knee problem in the second half, and by the control the Maori were allowed to exert at the breakdown.

"We've got a lot of learnings out of this game ... the Maori All Blacks were a way better team tonight," said Aki, who was returning to the ground where he helped the Waikato Chiefs to win the Super Rugby title in 2013.

The Irish now head north to Auckland for the first of three tests against New Zealand at Eden Park on Saturday.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Christian Radnedge)

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