THIS IS NOT your run-of-the-mill seriously intense international Test match.
McCaw and Hansen wear the traditional lava-lava while in Apia. Source: @AllBlacks
Samoa v New Zealand (Sky Sports 1, kick-off 3am Irish time) is history in the making, as the sport’s most recognisable brand at long last take a short trip out into the Pacific Islands that have fed their culture – not to mention the All Blacks themselves – for so long.
This will be much more than rugby, this will be a celebration of all things Manu Samoa.
The All Blacks have been given a rousing welcome at the airport, Census Johnston has come out of retirement and the Apia Test will be played smack bang in the middle of a specially commissioned national holiday. The 15,000 fortunate enough to be watching live will be demanding big hits and an unlikely win over the world’s best team to give them reason to make the three-hour plane trip again some day.
2. Charles Piutau
Particularly for Ulster fans, but also rugby fans in general: if you haven’t seen the northern province’s future back three star in action live, now’s your chance.
Source: AP/Press Association Images
The Auckland Blue is joined in the backline by his team-mate George Moala (who makes his debut in black) and both will be given a stern test by a home team and crowd baying for blood.
With most of the Hurricanes and Chiefs players resting up after a brilliant Super Rugby final, this is an opportunity for others to stake their claim in Steve Hansen’s World Cup squad. Among the replacements, Charlie Ngatai and Colin Slade (in the problem 10 position) are two more with more than just World Rugby ranking points to play for.
3. There’s serious talent among the home ranks too
Physicality and athleticism takes you a long way in rugby and Samoa have that in spades, but they also have a wealth of skillful players who will proudly pull on the blue jersey having proved their worth in Super Rugby or Europe.
Jack Lam in action against Ireland in 2013. Source: AP/Press Association Images
Along with the formidable power of Alesana Tuilagi or Johnny Leota in the back-line and openside Jack Lam; Tim Nanai-Williams will run from fullback having committed himself to Samoa after making himself one of the most exciting Super Rugby talents in recent seasons.
4. Family ties
New Zealand is inextricably linked with the Pacific Islands. 14 of Samoa’s 23-man squad were born in the Land of the Long White Cloud, while the Test holds special significance for All Black blindside Jerome Kaino who was born in American Samoa and follows in the footsteps of Apia-born Jerry Collins.
Nanai-Williams (a brother of Ulster number eight, Nick) at some point will come face to face with his cousin and team-mate Sonny Bill Williams who starts at outside centre.
Nothing quite fuels competitive instinct like family does.
5. It’s the start of the World Cup season and the reigning champs have brought the big guns
New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen has made some relatively experimental selections in his back-line, but up front little has been left to chance.
Source: David Davies
Richie McCaw and Kieran Read are present alongside Kaino in a superb back row. Sam Whitelock packs down behind a front row of Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Owen Franks.
This is not a pre-tournament friendly, it’s one of the toughest possible ways New Zealand could have started a season they hope will end in another Webb Ellis Cup.
4 or 5 sessions a day in ‘deepest, darkest Poland’ — George North looks ahead to World Cup prepThe All Blacks got a rousing welcome ahead of an historic game in Samoa