The All Blacks have survived a Pacific-sized scare to beat Samoa 25-16 in their historic one-off Test in Apia.
New Zealand’s first Test visit to Pacific island soil nearly threatened to boil over into an upset as the hosts lifted a gear in the second half, roared on by a passionate Apia Park crowd of 8014.
The battered and bruised All Blacks clung on to record a messy start to their 2015 campaign and suggests there is ample work to be done ahead of the World Cup.
A try from debut winger George Moala in the 46th minute gave the visitors a 19-6 lead early in the second half.
However, Samoan flanker Alofoti Faosiliva responded with the game’s only other try with 15 minutes remaining to reduce the margin to six points.
Veteran five-eighth Dan Carter kept his cool during a deafening final quarter, slotting a penalty near the finish to earn his side breathing space.
It was to the relief of the battered and bruised All Blacks who struggled to cope with Samoa’s unforgiving defence on a rock-hard surface.
Time and again they were knocked off their stride by a home side desperate to prove the home Test was warranted.
Samoa’s nerves were apparent, with basic handling and kicking mistakes plaguing their own game but the same mistakes were infiltrating the All Blacks, whose most dominant elements were their scrum and the controlling boot of Carter.
It was the closest New Zealand have come to defeat in 15 Tests against Pacific Island nations.
The previous tightest was when Samoa lost 35-13 in the first of their six Tests against the All Blacks, in Auckland in 1993.
The All Blacks led 12-3 after a tryless first half in which Carter landed four penalties at regular intervals while opposite Tusi slotted one 48m boomer midway through.
Moala crossed from a pinpoint Carter cross-kick in the 46th minute, the Blues wing gathering adeptly before beating two defenders and dragging a third over the line.
Pisi kept the hosts in touch with two further penalties to Carter’s one before the game came to life courtesy of bustling flanker Faosiliva.
He unfurled one powerful charge before getting up to repeat the dose for an explosive score, reducing the score to 22-16.
Along with starting winger Moala, three All Blacks made their first Test appearances off the bench – centre Charlie Ngatai, halfback Brad Weber and prop Nepo Laulala.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said the Samoan performance showed they would be a threat in the World Cup.
“I was just pretty glad a bit of cloud came over because it was pretty hot without the sun. So I’d hate to think … I don’t know if I would have strung words together,” he joked.
He said the Samoan game as exactly what Test rugby was about, calling them a force to be reckoned with.
“I’m just pleased we managed to get on the right side of the scoreboard,” he said.
“It’s the start of a big campaign. Remember this one and move on and enjoy it, but there is some work to do, isn’t there?”
New Zealand were fielding a slightly weakened team due to the unavailability of players involved in Saturday’s Super Rugby final.
They now prepare for the first Test of the Rugby Championship, against Argentina in Christchurch next week.