The All Blacks have survived a Pacific-sized scare to beat Samoa 25-16 in their historic 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 sell-out Apia Park crowd of 8014.
The battered and bruised All Blacks clung on to record a messy start to their 2015 campaign and suggest there is ample work to be done ahead of the World Cup.
A try from winger and debutant 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 All Blacks who struggled to cope with Samoa’s unforgiving defence on a rock-hard surface.
Coach Steve Hansen gave three explanations for a rusty display: Samoa’s brutal approach, the rust brought on by several weeks’ inactivity for most of his players and Apia’s searing mid-afternoon heat.
“Some of the guys have mentioned it’s the toughest conditions they’ve played in,” he said.
“To be able to hang in there to show the spirit against such a team playing as well as Manu Samoa did was good.
“Clearly we’ve got a lot to work on but that’s fine. That’s what we expect from this time of year.”
Samoan opposite Stephen Betham says the disappointment of losing was mixed with pride that his ninth-ranked team had pushed the world champions close.
Time and again the All Blacks were knocked off their stride by a side desperate to prove the home Test was warranted.
Samoa’s nerves were apparent, with basic handling and kicking mistakes plaguing their own game.
However, the same problems were infiltrating the All Blacks, whose only dominant elements were their scrum and the controlling boot of Carter, who slotted seven from eight shots in scoring 20 points.
It was the closest New Zealand have come to defeat in 15 Tests against Pacific Island nations.