Wellington - The All Blacks were given a massive wake-up call in their
truncated Rugby World Cup build-up with a rusty performance before they subdued
a combative Samoa 25-16 in Apia on Wednesday.
Richie McCaw's side are seeking to become the first team to defend the Webb
Ellis trophy in England in a little over two months and while they had no
illusions before heading into the match at Apia Park, they are now well aware
they will need to improve.
"I'm proud of the way you stuck at it, because that is what test match
footy is about," McCaw said in a pitch side interview.
"I'm just pleased we got up on the right side of the scoreboard.
"I just want to say remember this is a big campaign and we will
remember this one and enjoy it but there is some work to do isn't there?"
The All Blacks head into the shortened Rugby Championship with a clash
against Argentina next Friday in Christchurch, where they will be strengthened
by the return of 17 players from the Highlanders and Hurricanes.
Some players coach Steve Hansen took to Samoa, however, will now be
concerned for their future playing time in the All Blacks' final four games
before they head to the World Cup.
Fullback Israel Dagg looked well short of any match fitness on Wednesday
after he returned from a long-term injury.
Scrumhalf Andy Ellis, hoping to make an impression for a World Cup call-up
after four years in the international wilderness, also had trouble against
While their play at the back of the breakdown was untidy, Ellis lacked the
snap and width in his pass that had characterised Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara's
play this year.
That slower delivery put added pressure on the backs and with Smith and Perenara
re-joining the team in Christchurch after their Super Rugby commitments there
is some debate whether Ellis will get another chance.
Flyhalf Daniel Carter, despite showing how valuable he will be at the World
Cup with his cultured tactical game and goal kicking, also lacked the zip of
old, while inside centre Sonny Bill Williams failed to spark with his
characteristic breaks or offloads in the tackle.
"If you asked for the perfect game to take you into the Rugby
Championship this is it," Hansen told Fairfax Media in Apia.
"They put under a lot of pressure. Yes it was bloody tough but Test
matches are meant to be.
"We weren't perfect but we've got a foundation to tidy up."