Auckland - The
All Blacks are expecting a tough battle against Samoa on Friday as they
fine-tune their game ahead of the three-Test series against British and
"Everyone is talking about the big battle around the corner but our
mentality is the best way to prepare for a battle is to have a battle,"
assistant coach Ian Foster said ahead of the clash in Auckland.
New Zealand see the Pacific islanders as a chance to perfect what
they learned from watching the Lions in their tour matches, which
include a victory against Super Rugby's unbeaten Crusaders
and defeats to the Blues and Highlanders.
"It's about putting some detail in our team, making sure we know what we're trying to do," said Foster.
While the All Blacks have the goal of being ready for the first Lions
Test on June 24, Samoa have crucial World Cup qualifiers coming up
against Fiji and Tonga "so rest assured, this will be a full-on battle.
That's the best way to prepare for anything," Foster added.
In particular the All Blacks will be hoping Samoa can emulate the
Lions style of play with high, contestable kicks, a powerful front row
to sort out scrum issues, and hard running centres.
The match is being played on a Friday, a rarity for a rugby
international, to avoid a clash with the Lions match against the New
Zealand Maori in Rotorua on Saturday.
It will not be a full shakedown for the All Blacks, who are to name
their line-up on Thursday with seven of the 33-man squad unlikely to be
Captain Kieran Read has already ruled himself out to ensure he is
fully recovered from a broken thumb and ready to face the Lions eight
Hooker Dane Coles continues to be troubled with concussion symptoms
while flyhalf Aaron Cruden, centre Ryan Crotty and loose forward Liam
Squire have knee, rib and thumb injuries.
Lima Sopoaga and Waisake Naholo were released to play for the
Highlanders in their narrow 23-22 win over the Lions on Tuesday and it
is doubtful they would be asked to perform again three days later.
With the exception of Coles, all of the injured are expected to be available for the first Lions Test.
Samoa also have injury concerns with captain David Lemi and Cardiff Blues midfielder Reynold Lee-lo unavailable.
"Obviously losing the experience that both these players bring is
crucial and David’s leadership will be missed," coach Alama Ieremia
Samoa have one debutant in the starting line-up in former Crusaders and now Ospreys centre Kieron Fonotia. Potential debuts could
come off the bench in the shape of Nevers and former Auckland scrumhalf
Auvasa Falealii and Stade Francais prop Paul Alo Emile.
"Obviously we want to put out an experienced team and the All Blacks
is not a team you experiment with, so we are wanting to put on a
performance that will make our nation and most importantly ourselves
proud," Ieremia said.
"This will give us an indication of where we are at because it is
important to build momentum going in to June-July internationals."
Samoa have never beaten New Zealand in six attempts, with the closest
margin coming two years ago when the All Blacks were 25-16 winners of a
World Cup warm-up match.
15 Ah See Tuala (Northampton), 14 Albert Nikoro (West Scarborough), 13 Kieron Fonotia (Ospreys), 12 Alapati Leiua (Wasps), 11 Tim Nanai Williams (Chiefs), 10 Tusi Pisi (Bristol), 9 Kahn Fotualii (captain, Bath), 8 Faifili Levave (Mitsubishi), 7 Jack Lam (Bristol), 6 Piula Faasalele (Toulouse), 5 Faatiga Lemalu (Saracens), 4 Chris Vui (Worcester), 3 Census Johnston (Toulouse), 2 Maatulimanu Leiataua (Bayonne), 1 Viliamu Afatia (Racing 92)
Substitutes: 16 Seilala Lam (Nevers), 17 Nephi Leatigaga (Piacenza), 18 Paul Alo-Emile (Stade Francais), 19 Taiasina Tuifua (Lyon), 20 Alafoti Faosiliva (Worcester), 21 Auvasa Falealii (Nevers), 22 D'Angelo Leuila (Papatoetoe), 23 Ken Pisi (Northampton)