AUCKLAND (Reuters) - The “dance in the background” was undoubtedly overshadowing the All Blacks test match against Samoa but coach Steve Hansen was at pains to ensure his side did not trip over their own feet during Friday’s clash at Eden Park.
Hansen’s side face their South Pacific neighbours for just the seventh time as part of a Pasifika doubleheader at Eden Park, with Wales playing Tonga beforehand after their game was moved from Nuku‘alofa due to concerns over the pitch condition.
New Zealand Rugby organised the match specifically to aid Hansen’s team preparations for their series against the British and Irish Lions, which starts on June 24.
“Whilst the Lions is a dance that is happening in the background and we’re watching that with interest of course, the responsibility to the jersey and those who have been before us means that we go out and take this test match seriously and respect Samoan rugby for what it is,” Hansen told reporters.
“They’re a very good rugby team and on their day can cause an upset. We don’t want to be that upset.”
Hansen has named arguably his strongest side possible for the match against Alama Ieremia’s team, with only captain Kieran Read (thumb) and Dane Coles (concussion) missing.
The selection, he added, had been relatively simple with his desire to give the team likely to face the Lions the chance to shake out any cobwebs before the big dance.
”A win is getting a game of footy and getting some combinations,“ he said. ”You just can’t flick your fingers and say you’re away.
“If we can get through the game and get them back into the All Blacks way, playing with some accuracy, pace and intensity will be good.”
New Zealand have won all six of their previous matches against the Pacific islanders, who have in the past proved stubborn to break down before the All Blacks cranked up the pressure to run away with five of the six games.
Samoa are also using the test as preparations for their own game against Wales in Apia before World Cup qualifying clashes against Tonga and Fiji.
Ieremia, who played for both Samoa and the All Blacks, has chosen arguably his strongest team, with the majority based in Europe while former Canterbury Crusaders centre Kieron Fonotia is the only debutant in the starting side.
”We believe it’s a team that can challenge the All Blacks,“ Ieremia said this week. ”We have picked guys who are used to this sort of tempo.
“The All Blacks are not a team you can experiment with. This is our strongest side. The gauge for us is about where we’re at as a team, and we’ll find out after this test match.”
Editing by John O'Brien