New Zealand 78 Samoa 0
It looks like the Lions are going to need a bigger boat. Granted, the Samoans capitulated and shipped some soft tries, but the scary aspect of this first hit out of the year for the back to back World Cup winners is that they were actually quite rusty in the first quarter. Thereafter they flowed and they will almost certainly get better.
It’s hard to know where to begin. Coming together for the first time since last November, the All Blacks had barely 40per cent territory and possession in the first-half, yet clinically snaffled four converted tries without reply, and tagged on another eight after the break.
The lines of running, offloading (they made 25 to the Samoans’ eight) and width of the All Blacks’ game were outstanding. They hugged and used the pitch to within inches of the touchlines, and flooded the tramlines with an assortment of forwards and backs. No-one else plays rugby quite like it. There was, as ever, a huge impact off the bench and they suffered no injuries.
"The execution got better as the night went on," said Steve Hansen. "You wouldn't have thought we were going that good at the 20 minute mark, and that's what we expected. There was a fair amount of rust and lack of cohesion at times, but as the game wore on they started to work their rhythm and their connexions better, and I thought not a bad hit-out for their first one."
Hansen said the set-pieces were “not too bad”, adding: “We were forming new formations and combinations, and our line-out we speeded on and we got a wee bit tidier. You’ve got to be happy because we’ve been in these situations before, and been a lot rustier than this so it was a nice start.”
On the negative side, there was plenty of kicking out of hand by the All Blacks, whether it was the box kicking of Aaron Smith or both Beauden Barrett and Ben Smith in open play. Not all of it was exceptional to begin with, with Barrett putting one out on the full, but we’re looking for relative crumbs of vulnerability here.
But Barrett, the Rolls Royce of outhalves who also saw both his brothers, Scott and debutant Jordie take the field either side of his departure, cruised through the game in third gear. The world’s best rugby player scored a brace of tries, including the try of the game, set up a few more and, oh yes, landed seven conversions out of eight. That’s meant to be the All Blacks Achilles heel.
There was particular interest in the newly formed midfield combination of Sonny Bill Williams and Anton Lienert-Brown. It had its defensive blips, not least when Tim Nanai Williams stepped SBW and so too did Kieron Fonotia, but Lienart-Brown’s distribution and offloading skills were a major player in many of their tries.
“Centres take a bit of time,” said Hansen. “You don’t just go ‘bang’ and have a combination. You’ve got to understand how each other plays and both of them are good offloaders. At times they might have tried to offload too often rather than passing a bit before contact. But you’ve got to be pleased. Both of them had good performances.”
Lienert-Brown’s opening try had more than a hint of a knock-on about it from Ardie Savea at the base of the scrum, yet the TMO Ian Smith declined to prompt a review, having earlier done so for a marginal neck roll against Samoa.
Barrett was pinged for not rolling away after Nanai Williams had a go again. Barrett was also penalised for holding on when Afatia
Poached over the ball. Kieron Fonotia stepped Williams again but when the All Blacks scrambled and forced a turnover near their own line, Ben Smith countered, Aaron Smith and Williams supporting and offloading in turn, for Barrett to kick on and use the wet grass to gather before the line and slide over in one smooth movement. Not that he doesn’t do anything smoothly.
Samoa had enjoyed way more possession and territory but, even off colour and largely on the back foot, had clinically taken their two chances to lead 14-0.
And then they found their mojo. Aaron Smith ran infield off quick scrum ball, bringing in Julien Savea, on to Barrett and then Anton Lienert-Brown passed inside Ardie Savea to score untouched from 30 metres. The amount of options Lienert-Brown had on either side was bamboozling. On half-time they worked a 9-10-12 off a scrum for Williams to score.
Lienert-Brown brilliantly set up Israel Dagg before Julien Savea finished off another set-piece strike move for his 46th test try, joining Christian Cullen and Joe Rokocoko, and moving to within three of Doug Howlett’s record.
The Samoans wilted from that point, and the tries flowed. Ben Smith counter-attacked off a quick throw while a Samoan player was being treated, to set up a try for Codie Taylor. With his final act Beauden Barrett finished off a slick move for his 14th test try and converted from the touchline. A supreme spell of team attacking ended with Dagg’s sleight of hand putting debutant Vaea Fifita away as the bench added more unrelenting desire and excellence; TJ Perenara, Ardie Savea again and Sam Cane running in further tries.
There were 12 in all, to nil, and they even had another with the last play disallowed. Yikes.
“Are we the finished unit yet? Of course we’re not,” said Hansen. “We know that. And we’ve got a lot of work to do, and we look forward to watching the Maoris get into the Lions tomorrow night, and then we get our chance the following Saturday.”
Scoring sequence: 13 mins Lienert-Brown try, B Barrett con 7-0; 31 mins B Barrett try and con 14-0; 34 mins A Savea try, B Barrett con 21-0; 40 mins Williams try, B Barrett con 28-0; (half-time 28-0); 42 mins Dagg try, B Barrett con 35-0; 52 mins J Savea try, 40-0; 57 mins Taylor try, B Barrett con 47-0; 60 mins B Barrett try and con, 54-0; 62 mins Fifita try, Sopoaga con 61-0; 72 mins Perenara try, 66-0; 76 mins A Savea try, Sopoaga con 73-0; 79 mins Cane try 78-0.
New Zealand: B. Smith; Dagg, Liernert-Brown, Williams, J. Savea; B. Barrett, A. Smith; Moody, Taylor, Franks; Retallick, Whitelock; Kaino, Cane, A. Savea.
Replacements: J. Barrett for B. Smith (63), Sopoaga for B. Barrett (61), Perenara for A. Smith (57), Crockett for Moody (51), Harris for Taylor (63), Faumuina for Franks (51), S. Barrett for Whitelock (51), Fifita for Kaino (57).
Samoa: Tuala; Nikoro, Fonotia, Leiua, Nanai-Williams; T. Pisi, Fotuali'i; Afatia, Leiataua, Johnston; Vui, Lemalu; Faasalele, Selesele, Levave.
Replacements: K. Pisi for Nikoro (57), Polataivao for Fotuali’i (74), Leatigaga for Afatia (69), S. Lam for Leiataua (61), Alo-Emile for Johnston (51), Tuifua for Vui (61), Faosiliva for Selesele (58). Not Used: Leuila.