The occasion and the unconventional build-up can’t be excuses for a clumsy start to their World Cup year, says All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
The eyes of the rugby world will settle on petite Apia Park on Wednesday when the world champions face Samoa in a Test match regarded by many as long overdue.
A sold-out crowd of 8104 has been confirmed for New Zealand’s first Test on Pacific islands soil.
It is one of the smallest crowds for any Test involving the All Blacks but doesn’t usurp the record-low 4800 in 1951 who watched them beat the Wallabies in Brisbane.
Another All Blacks win is widely expected, which would lift their record to 6-0 against Samoa following five wins on New Zealand soil.
However, McCaw warns against writing off opponents who will be highly motivated and vastly more clued-up on the demands of professional rugby than previous Samoan teams.
McCaw says his team are embracing the passionate interest in them since arriving late on Monday.
A hectic schedule of public events in their first 24 hours has included a midday public parade and a school skills session – both under a roasting sun.
It was a departure from their usual low-key Test build-up but McCaw sensed his team switched into game mode on Tuesday at their final training session.
“We realised there would be a few things here that aren’t quite in the norm but you’ve got to be able to roll with that,” he said.
“Coming here is the right thing to do and it’s put a bit of a smile on everyone’s faces, including our team. So hopefully that helps Samoa.
“Now we’ve got to make sure that we bring the intensity.”
The first of just five Tests before the World Cup, McCaw says there is no time to ease gently into their playing style for 2015.
A sub-par performance from any player has the potential to be costly given coach Steve Hansen has been working with 49 players, from whom just 31 make the World Cup cut.
“There’s new fellas there but, even for the guys who have been around for a while, it’s about getting up to speed as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, McCaw gave the match-playing surface the thumbs up following their training hit-out.
Extensive improvements, part-funded by the Chinese government ahead of the Commonwealth Youth Games in September, have transformed the ground.
Tidy grandstands encircle most of the field, which boasts a vastly improved – if hard – playing surface.
“If ever you’re asking what a field should be like, that’s what you’d pick,” McCaw said.
The hot weather was dismissed immediately as a potential excuse for a poor performance.
McCaw noted most Samoan players also needed to adjust after completing European club seasons.
“And I’d much rather play in this than freezing cold, I tell you,” he said.