Jamie Jospeh's New Zealand Maori slumped to a rare low yesterday, losing their tour opener to English club Leicester.
The Tigers won 32-24, inflicting the first loss on the Maori side since 2007 and just the second in 23 games stretching back to 2003.
And this was a bad loss for a team that has claimed some heavyweight scalps in recent years, including the British & Irish Lions, England, and Ireland as well as second tier tests sides Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Japan.
Leicester were missing 10 players away on international duty. But under the guidance of 19-year-old first five George Ford, deputising for England No 10 Toby Flood, the Tigers managed to dominate at Welford Road in front of more than 17,000 fans.
Ford, who last week missed five of his nine kicks at goal against Northampton, was accurate against the Maori, landing eight of 10 for 22 points. They included six penalties as the tourists paid the price for ill-discipline that also included fullback Andre Taylor and lock Jarrad Hoeata being sin-binned.
The Maori side were both brilliant and bumbling. They scored a super early try to halfback Frae Wilson - one of 11 uncapped Maori players on show - and added two others to midfield backs Tim Bateman and Charlie Ngatai.
But when the heat went on as they tried to haul in the Tigers, handling errors plagued them.
The heartbreaker for the Maori side came in the 29th minute when the Tigers hacked a ball clear on defence and wing Adam Thompstone collected it for a try against the run of play. Suddenly Leicester had a 19-point lead and Ford's boot kept them in front.
The Maori All Blacks weren't alone in their struggles as other international teams played midweek matches against English clubs yesterday.
Gloucester beat Fiji 31-29 and Newcastle beat Tonga 24-13.
The Maori play an English Premiership XV in Doncaster on Sunday (NZ time) and complete their short tour with a "test" against Canada in Oxford the following weekend.
- © Fairfax NZ News