SUVA — New Zealand Maori rallied from 26-10 down at halftime, scoring 17 unanswered points in the second half to beat Fiji 27-26 in a one-off rugby international on Saturday.
Fiji seemed on course for its first win over the Maori All Blacks in 19 meetings over the past 58 years, but flanker Elliot Dixon's try in the 71st minute completed the Maori's comeback, lifting them to a one-point lead they were able to defend to full time.
Tries to Kini Murimurivalu, Nadolo and captain Akapusi Qera lifted Fiji to a 26-10 lead at halftime. Fiji pinned the Maori team inside its territory for most of the first half and profited with three tries and Nadolo's three penalties.
New Zealand Maori hit back with a try to Reiko Ioane, on debut, and a penalty and conversion to Marty McKenzie who, with Damien McKenzie, was one of four sets of brothers in the Maori lineup.
The home side did not recover from the loss of star winger Nemani Nadolo to injury just before half-time, after he had scored a try and kicked three penalties to contribute 14 points.
Fiji's lineout also malfunctioned in the second half and a series of handling and defensive errors contributed to their defeat.
The Maori steadily cut into Fiji's lead through the second half with tries to Damien McKenzie, then Dixon while Otere Black's conversion of Dixon's try gave them their first lead.
"They trapped us in our half in that first spell and we weren't able to get out," said Maori captain Charlie Ngatai, who played for the All Blacks against Samoa in a test match in Apia on Wednesday. "In the second half we were able to exit better, get the ball down their half, build phases and hang onto the ball."
Fiji captain Qera was disappointed to see an historic win elude his team.
"In the first half we had them in the bag but we lost concentration in the second half and we managed to give away the game," Qera said.
Fiji will play Tonga next weekend in the opening match of the Pacific Nations Cup while the New Zealand Maori will play a Barbarians selection in Auckland.
New Zealand Maori 27 (Reiko Ioane, Damien McKenzie, Elliot Dixon tries; Marty McKenzie 2 conversions, 2 penalties; Otere Black conversion).
Fiji 26 (Kini Murimurivalu, Nemani Nadolo, Akapusi Qera tries; Nemani Nadolo 3 penalties; Josh Matavesi conversion). HT: 10-26.