Preview: New Zealand v Samoa

New Zealand warm up for the opening Test of the British and Irish Lions series with a clash with Samoa at Eden Park in Auckland on Friday.

With the Lions having struggled in their opening games on tour, it will now be the All Blacks under the spotlight as they look to iron out any issues before next Saturday. Usually, New Zealand are a tad rusty in their first game of the year so don't expect a perfect performance.

There is also the point that it would be foolish of the All Blacks to show too much in this game as they will want to hold back any tricks for the Lions, who of course have been building for June 24. Yes, they have struggled thus far but their focus has always been the series.

Will New Zealand have been concerned by what they have seen from the Lions? Probably not but that shut-out against the Crusaders did show that the first-choice tourists will be difficult to break down. However, the Highlanders showed on Tuesday how to negate that game-plan.

There are few surprises to Steve Hansen's team this week as Ben Smith leads in the absence of Kieran Read. He's joined by Israel Dagg and Julian Savea while Sonny Bill Williams and Anton Lienert-Brown are at centre with Aaron Smith preferred alongside Beauden Barrett at nine.

A boost comes in the shape of Jerome Kaino starting but there is still no Dane Coles while Aaron Cruden is sidelined with a knee problem.

Their opponents at Eden Park will no doubt chance their arm whenever possible and with key players such as Kahn Fotuali’i, Tusi Pisi, Tim Nanai-Williams and Alapati Leiua in their backline, they have the talent and mindset to play expansive rugby, which bodes well for Friday.

There is a heavy European feel to their line-up, with 18 of the players included in the 23 plying their trade in the UK and France. Even still one gets the feel this opposition won't be great practice for the All Blacks ahead of facing the Lions, as Samoa will come to play.

"We're wanting to put on a performance that will make our nation and most importantly ourselves proud," revealed head coach Alama Ieremia.

"Our performance will give us a rugby barometer as to where we're at – there's no better challenge and opportunity than playing the number one team in the world. This will give us an indication of where we're at, because it is important to build momentum going into June-July."

For the All Blacks, however, it's all about building to next week at this same venue and that mouth-watering first Test against the Lions.

Players to watch:

For New Zealand: In the absence of captain Kieran Read, Ardie Savea is given the eight jersey on Friday. He has been playing in that spot for the Hurricanes on a number of occasions this year, which hinted at this possibility, so won't be unfamiliar with his responsibilities. Another player to watch is his brother, Julian Savea, who has not been in great form this season. Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo are firing on all cylinders which is heaping pressure on Savea to perform. If he can claim a try or two that would be massive for his confidence ahead of the series.

For Samoa: The midfield duo of Alapati Leiua and Kieron Fonotia will be an interesting watch on Friday. The former Hurricanes and Crusaders players are both powerful runners with ball in hand and won't take a backward step in Auckland. Leiua has been hampered by injury this year at Wasps but Fonotia has been consistently solid for the Ospreys and will relish this outing against the All Blacks in what is his debut.

Head-to-head: We look at the front-rows here. The all-Crusaders trio of Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks did not have things their own way against the British and Irish Lions last weekend – some have blamed interpretations from the referee – so will be desperate to put in strong showings at the set-piece against Viliamu Afatia, Maatulimanu Leiataua and Census Johnston. The Lions will watch with interest.

Previous results:

2015: New Zealand won 25-16 in Apia
2008: New Zealand 101-14 in New Plymouth
2001: New Zealand won 50-6 in Albany
1999: New Zealand won 71-13 in Albany
1996: New Zealand won 51-10 in Napier
1993: New Zealand won 35-13 in Auckland

Prediction: Expect the All Blacks to get some decent momentum from this fixture and run away with it in the end. New Zealand by 25.

The teams:

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Vaea Fifita, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Jordie Barrett

Samoa: 15 Ah See Tuala, 14 Albert Nikoro, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Tusiata Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Faifili Levave, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Piula Faasalele, 5 Faatiga Lemalu, 4 Chris Vui, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Maatulimanu Leiataua, 1 Viliamu Afatia
Replacements: 16 Seilala Lam, 17 Nephi Leatigaga, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Taiasina Tuifua, 20 Alafoti Faosiliva, 21 Auvasa Falealii, 22 D’Angelo Leuila, 23 Ken Pisi

Date: Friday, June 16
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-Off: 20:00 local (08:00 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)

Comments