Apia - New Zealand overcame the ferocious tackling of an inspired Samoa team to complete a 25-16 win Wednesday in the All Blacks’ first-ever test match in the Pacific Island nation.
New Zealand took a 12-3 lead to halftime and had to wait until the 46th minute for its only try — to winger George Moala on debut.
Flyhalf Dan Carter added to his world-record tally of points in tests, kicking a conversion and six penalties for 20 points.
New Zealand extended its record against Samoa to six wins from six matches in the eagerly-anticipated match which prompted the government to call a half-day national holiday to allow people to watch.
A try by Samoa flanker Alafoti Faosiliva in the 66th minute cut New Zealand’s lead to 22-16 and raised the possibility of an upset result in front of the capacity 8,100-strong crowd, but the All Blacks maintained composure and closed out the match with a late penalty to Carter.
“To Richie McCaw, the captain, and the No. 1 team in the world, hopefully you’ll come back to Samoa and we will try again and again to beat you,” said winger Alesani Tuilagi, who ended the match as the home team’s captain.
While the match was intensely physical and compelling, it lacked the real spectacle some had hoped for, and was often interrupted by the whistle of South African referee Jaco Peyper, who blew for 13 penalties in the first half alone.
New Zealand won the previous meeting between these teams 101-14 in 2008 and the average margin in the five previous tests was 55 points but Samoa was a different prospect on home soil.
“I will say to Manu Samoa, the way you played is what test rugby is all about,” New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said.
“We said before we came that’s what we’d get and that’s what you boys (Samoa) did, just kept coming at us. I take my hat off to (Samoa). Going forward into your other matches and the World Cup, they’ll get better and they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
The All Blacks tried to use hand speed to move the ball away from contact but Samoa’s defensive structure was sound and players hurled themselves into tackles with such vigor that they repeatedly jolted the ball from the hands of New Zealand runners.
That caused breakdowns which suited Samoa’s physicality around the tackled ball, creating turnovers.
New Zealand was forced to revert to cross-field kicks to try and outflank the Samoan defense and that tactic yielded its best result in the 46th minute with Moala’s try.
Carter popped the ball behind the defensive line and Moala was able to catch it on the fly, spin out of a tackle and push off his marker, Tuilagi, to leave himself with a dash to the line.
When Carter kicked his fifth penalty midway through the second half to give his team a 22-9 lead, the All Blacks might have hoped they had broken the back of the Samoa resistance.
Instead, Samoa blazed back into the match with a magnificent try to Faosiliva. The powerful flanker first forced a turnover from a failed attack by Sonny Bill Williams then backed up after being tackled to crash over the line, scoring almost at the feet of joyous supporters.
Worn down by the ferocity of Samoa’s performance and wilting in 30 degree heat, the All Blacks were just able to lift themselves to victory. They ended the match with a bench that looked like a casualty ward: Moala may have suffered the most serious injury but most All Blacks bore the bruises and scars of a giant confrontation.