APIA, July 8- A rusty All Blacks side, battered by bone-crunching tackles, received a pre-World Cup fright when they scrambled to a 25-16 victory over Samoa in their historic one-off Test in Apia on Wednesday.
The steady boot of Dan Carter saved New Zealand as the first match between the rugby-obsessed nations in Samoa produced the closest result of all their six meetings.
The Test was the first of a five-match build-up by the All Blacks before they name a 31-man squad for their World Cup defence starting in England in September.
“It’s the start of a big campaign. We’ll remember this one and move on but there is some work to do isn’t there,” captain Richie McCaw said, acknowledging All Blacks’ frailties had been exposed by a good Samoan team.
“I am not sure words now can actually justify the type of match it was but I will say to the Manu Samoan team the way you played, that’s what true Test match rugby is about … you kept coming at us.
“I just take my hats off to you. Going forward into upcoming matches and the World Cup, perform like that and you’ll get better. I know you are going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Close marking by the powerful Samoans and multiple handling errors by both sides meant the clash never reached the free-flowing heights expected.
The All Blacks were held to 12-3 in the first half with all the points coming from penalties.
The only tries in the match, scored by All Blacks debutant George Moala and rugged Samoan flanker Alafoti Faosiliva, both came in the second half.
Passions were ignited before kick-off with the All Blacks laying down the challenge with their traditional haka, or native war dance, and Samoa responding with their fearsome siva tau.
But after kick-off the fever rapidly ebbed. New Zealand’s set piece appeared to click effortlessly into place with a scrum too powerful for Samoa and several stolen lineouts.
However attempts to run Samoa off the rock-hard ground in the 30 Celsius heat sank beneath a constant wave of close-marking Samoans, whose thunderous tackles sent All Blacks flying backwards.
Attempts to change tack with forward drives and a Carter cross-kick to wing Moala failed to breach the Samoans defence.
But, as Johnny Leota and Alesana Tuilagi led a hard-charging Samoan defence, the penalties flowed when the off-side line was breached.
Carter was able to land four penalties while Tusi Pisi replied with one for Samoa in the only scoring before half-time.
The Carter-Moala routine eventually paid off early in the second spell when the right wing scooped up a cross-kick and ran 30 metres to the line.
Faosiliva’s try, 15 minutes from time, was the result of two powerful runs in one move through the flagging All Blacks defence by the Bath loose forward.
Tim Nanai Williams’s conversion pulled Samoa within six points of the All Blacks and in sight of a shock result before Carter kicked his sixth penalty late in the game to put the outcome beyond doubt.