All Blacks get royal treatment

2015-07-07 12:06
Jerome Kaino (Gallo Images)

Apia - The All Blacks were feted as rugby royalty in Samoa Tuesday but were braced for the hero worship to be replaced by a bruising confrontation in Wednesday's one-off Test.

Thousands of people lined routes through Apia to greet the All Blacks, who wore traditional Samoan lava lavas during a street parade to mark their first official visit to the tiny Pacific island.

Enthralled Samoans cheered the world's top-ranked team, multiple winners of the world's best player-of-the-year award and the coach of the year.

Amid the colour and festivities were life-sized statues of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and Samoa skipper Ofisa Treviranus.

The parade ended with hymns, prayers and speeches including a 15-minute oration by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi in which he asked why it had taken the All Blacks so long to arrive.

McCaw started the day meeting with Samoa's Head of State, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, while coach Steve Hansen was to be made an honorary chief.

But as much as the All Blacks have been overwhelmed by the adulation, McCaw was aware the gloves would be off when the historic Test kicks off on Wednesday.

"I thought New Zealand was a pretty rugby-mad country, but the knowledge and the passion that I've seen in the short time we've been here from the Samoan people pretty much overtakes what we've got at home," he told the crowd.

"The friendship between Samoan people and New Zealand people in terms of rugby is one that I guess you can see today.

"Another great thing about it is that once the whistle goes and you cross that white line, you'd never know you were friends - you go hammer and tongs and I'm sure tomorrow that that will be exactly the way it is."

All Blacks hardman Jerome Kaino said New Zealand would "fight fire with fire and deal with that physicality".

"That's the exciting part because we've got guys in this team that love that type of game."

While the All Blacks are aware of the islanders' fearsome reputation, Samoa coach Stephen Betham has urged his battle-hardened and European-based pack to keep their cool.

"We have to control the aggression or suffer in the long run," Betham said. "If we don't control the aggression the game can fly off the handle."

Hansen was concerned about the impact of the extreme island heat on his side emerging from a cold and wet New Zealand winter.

"Thirty-three degrees is not ideal for playing rugby with black jerseys but that's what it is and we've prepared for it," he said.

"We're going to have to play really well because it's going to be an emotional occasion. If we allow them to score too many points the crowd will go nuts."

All 8 000 tickets for the match were sold out long ago with immigration officials estimating 10 000 people have descended on Samoa for the match and all accommodation is booked out.

The All Blacks have for decades been enriched by players of Samoan heritage - including Tana Umaga, Michael Jones, Christian Cullen, Ma'a Nonu and the late Jerry Collins.

In this Test team alongside Kaino, who was born in neighbouring American Samoa, are Samoan-born Nepo Laulala, set to make his debut off the bench, while Keven Mealamu and Sonny Bill Williams are of Samoan descent.

Read more on:    all blacks  |  jerome kaino  |  rugby

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