But the second half was a totally different story as the Maori controlled possession and territory scoring 18 unanswered points in the process.
After their Test defeat of Australia at the weekend, a much changed England started the game brimming with confidence and raced into an early lead.
Charlie Hogson slotted an early penalty before his delightful kick through was just kept in play by the outside of Ashton's boot for Armitage to touch down in the in-goal area.
Another Hodgson penalty put England 13-0 to the good but the Maori were always going to be dangerous on the front foot and so it proved.
Former Sale centre Luke McAlister got them on the board with a penalty and when Hodgson's penalty struck the post the Maori counter attacked with ruthless efficiency.
Having marched their way downfield, Gear bumped David Strettle's feeble tackle away before out out gassing Mathew Tait to touch down for his first try.
McAlister converted and was soon repeating the process when England lost possession from a scrum before skipper Liam Messam barged his way over despite Hodgson's attempted tackle.
With the home side now leading 17-13, it was England's time to turn the tables as Hodgson converted one penalty from a scrum offence while another penalty allowed Care to touch down having taken a quick tap.
It would get better for the visitors as Ashton - who grabbed his first Test try against Australia at the weekend - was fed by Hodgson for their third try of the half after McAlister had been picked off.
Yet the positives of England's first 40 minutes were soon cancelled out by a second-half performance that saw them rapidly cede control of the match to the hosts.
McAlister again profited from some uncertain English tackling to feed Gear for his second try before Strettle then came rushing out of the line to allow the Test winger to saunter over for his hat-trick as England's defence was stretched to breaking point.
Two conversions from the boot of McAlister put them a point ahead but Maori replacement Willie Ripia kicked two further penalties to take them 35-28 ahead.
England went searching for the converted try that would level the scores but Shane Geraghty - on as a replacement for Hodgson - was unable to exert the control for the visitors to snatch the draw.