World Cup challenge put to All Blacks
Expectations of performance at the highest level will be no less for the All Blacks in their debut in Apia on Wednesday and the challenge was in front of the players to perform to their best over the next five Tests to secure a World Cup place.
Coach Steve Hansen said the players couldn't control World Cup selection, but what they could do was control their performance and then put their trust in the process that good play would be rewarded.
Hansen was in no doubt the Samoans had assembled a good team of players who had performed well in Europe, and in New Zealand in Super Rugby, and they had been able to have time together over the last fortnight and, in some cases, longer.
"I've read a lot about previous games and this game is totally different as it's being played in Apia.
"And you've got a whole nation who are going to be lining the streets, and from what I've read already the place is going off and that emotion can really lift a player. And when you are a talented player like they are we are going to have a talented opposition," he said.
It was important to combine the needs of intensity and accuracy to meet the physical challenge, he said.
The game was such a special event, Hansen said, that the side would be looking to work with the locals in Apia to help make it the occasion everyone expected.
"It will be good for our guys to have to do something different, and to see how they react, including myself. It's not the normal preparation day before a Test match that you are going on a parade but we've got to adapt and adjust and fit in, and make the occasion, and to be part of the occasion.
"We're really looking forward to it. It is a really exciting way to start what is an exciting year," he said.
Hansen said the team had picked itself 'pretty easily'. The selectors went for people they wanted to see and players who needed game time.
He said new cap George Moala, who had not been named in the original squad but who had come in as cover for unavailable Highlanders and Hurricanes players, had impressed management since joining the side in camp.
Hansen had been impressed by how quickly Moala had adapted and fitted in.
"He's comfortable on the ball and comfortable doing the things we need him to do. It's going to be a big test and we need people to be comfortable," he said.
Moala said he was grateful for the opportunity he had been given and it was a proud moment.
"To wear the black jersey, I'm really excited to get out there and do the task," he said.
Coming into the All Blacks environment he had been very nervous but the coaches had helped him settle in and get up to date with all the plans.
"It's a great environment and they really helped me a lot," he said.
Hansen said with the unavailability of the Super Rugby finalists, the pack had picked itself for the Test.
It had been interesting watching Andy Ellis come back into the side for what will be his 27th Test. A lot had changed since he last played in 2011 but he was desperate for the opportunity.
The key for the selectors was to assess all the players they have in the environment, give them an opportunity to feel comfortable and to produce their best so that that could be reflected in the final 31 named for the World Cup.