The All Blacks expressed relief to have come out on top 25-16 against a fired up Samoa here Wednesday, surviving a late onslaught that exposed severe rust at the start of their World Cup build-up.
The world’s top-ranked side were well below their best and rattled at times by the pressure exerted by the Pacific islanders who relished close-quarter physical combat.
Ahead of the All Blacks’ first Test in Samoa, the New Zealanders were treated like rugby royalty with a street parade in Apia and other public appearances as the island declared a public holiday for the Test.
But when the game began the gloves were off with such intensity that Samoa threatened a boilover first-ever victory over the All Blacks.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said while the 30 degrees celsius (86 farenheit) temperature had an impact, it was obvious his side needed a lot of work before their opening Rugby Championship game against Argentina in nine days.
“If you asked for the perfect game to take you into theRugby Championship this is it. They put us under a lot of pressure,” Hansen said.
“We didn’t play the way we wanted to play and were a bit scratchy playing in that heat… some of the guys have mentioned it was the toughest conditions they’ve played.
“So, to be able to hang in there and show spirit against such a team playing as well as Manu Samoa were was good.
“Clearly, we’ve got a lot to work on between now and Argentina but that’s fine. We’re looking forward to doing that.”
The All Blacks were comfortably ahead 19-3 soon after half-time before Samoa developed a self-belief that they could cause an historic upset.
They began to take control and closed to 22-16 with 15 minutes remaining to play through a converted try from an incredible boilover, before a late Dan Carter penalty extended the All Blacks buffer.
“We started to feel like we were getting on top of it and started to get going and we didn’t quite take advantage and it was a bit of a scramble for the last 15,” captain Richie McCaw said.
The 138-Test veteran, one of the few All Blacks to distinguish himself for the full 80 minutes, described conditions as some of the toughest he has played in.
“It would be one of the tougher ones,” he said. “The last 15 minutes myself and a few others didn’t have a lot left in the tank.”
Samoa had lost five previous clashes with the All Blacks, all in New Zealand, and fly-half Tusi Pisi said they believed they could have won in Apia.
“It just comes down to crucial little errors and the swing of momentum, but the effort was outstanding,” he said.
“We talked about putting pressure on them defensively and at times we had them rattled. It was just execution that let us down.
“The belief was there from the start. We prepared to win. We were disappointed to come away with a loss.”
For the All Blacks, Carter kicked six penalties and converted their sole try scored by George Moala early in the second half.
Samoa’s points came from a try by Alafoti Faosiliva, converted by Tim Nanai-Williams, and three penalties by Pisi. – Agence France-Presse