Hansen warns against slip-up against Samoa

The All Blacks’ build-up to their historic encounter with Samoa in Apia will have a festival atmosphere, including a public parade the day before.

But it will be all seriousness when New Zealand take the field on Wednesday for their first official Test in the Pacific islands.

“If we don’t take them seriously, we’ll get one right between the eyes,” coach Steve Hansen said before the team’s departure from Auckland on Monday.

“They’re a good side. You look at the players they’ve got. They’re performing well in the UK, a lot of them, and those that aren’t in the UK have been performing well here.”

The All Blacks have faced Samoa five times for five comfortable wins, all in New Zealand.

Hansen said the venue made the upcoming clash totally different.

“You’ve got a whole nation that are going to be lining the streets,” he said.

“From what I’ve read, already the place is going off and that emotion can really lift a player. We have to meet that emotional charge and make sure we’re ready.”

With the players from the Highlanders and Hurricanes ruled out because of their involvement in the Super Rugby final, Hansen has named four debutants in the match-day 23.

There is one starter in wing George Moala and three on the bench in midfielder Charlie Ngatai, halfback Brad Weber and prop Nepo Laulala,

But there is also plenty of experience in a side, especially in the forwards, where there are almost 650 caps among the starting eight.

The selection also features recalls for hooker Hika Elliot and halfback Andy Ellis, the former getting a spot on the bench to cap his remarkable comeback from a career-threatening neck injury.

Ellis, who benefits from the unavailability of the three halfbacks named in the original 41-man squad, is in the starting 15.

The 31-year-old has played 26 Tests, but none since the 2011 World Cup. His last act in an All Blacks jersey was to kick the ball out at the end of the final to conclude New Zealand’s victory over France.

Hansen said it had been interesting watching Ellis’ return to the All Blacks environment, including his quips to journalists during a media opportunity.

“A lot of things have changed since he was last here and there’s a lot of nerves which he’s probably fudging with a lot of funny stuff,” Hansen said.

“That’s the effect the jersey can have on you sometimes because it’s a wonderful place if you can stay here, but it’s a daunting place if you think you’re on the edge of it.”

Hansen said that highlighted a balancing act before the World Cup squad was named.

“During these next five Test matches, one of our balancing acts as a management is to make sure those guys feel comfortable and can just be themselves and exhibit their skills, so we can make good judgments when we pick the 31 to go to the World Cup.”

ALL BLACKS: Israel Dagg, George Moala, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Charles Piutau, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Wyatt Crockett, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Matt Todd, Brad Weber, Colin Slade, Charlie Ngatai.

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