The All Blacks will play their first ever match in the Pacific Islands when they take on Samoa in Apia next year, as part of their warm-up programme for the World Cup.
The historic fixture will take place on July 8th 2015, just four days after the final of Super Rugby, raising the prospect of several first choice All Blacks missing the game should their franchises be involved in the domestic final.
The last time this happened was in 2006, when the Hurricanes met the Crusaders, but head coach Steve Hansen insists this isn’t an issue, and shrugged off claims that they could end up sending an All Black ‘B’ team.
“That hasn’t happened for a while,” Hansen told Fairfax Media. “We’ll deal with it. It’s not a B team, there’s no such thing as an All Black B team.”
“The All Blacks are going to play Samoa, end of story, and if we’ve got two teams in the final, well, we’ll still have an All Black team going to Samoa and it’ll be the best team we can pick and they will be expected to play like All Blacks.
“You’ll expect them to win, I’ll expect them to win, and Stephen [Betham, Samoa’s coach] will expect them to get beaten. We’ve got every respect for Samoan rugby, but we also know that you can’t ask someone to play in a grand final and three days later expect them to back up in a test match. That’s just ridiculous.
“If we’re to play this game, that’s the day we can play it and we’ve got to give a bit to get a bit and we’re happy to do that. We’ve thought about all the things that could possibly happen and we still think we can go there and represent New Zealand the way they should be represented.”
Brent Impey – NZRU chairman – said the test was a way of honouring the close links between New Zealand and Samoa, with several of the All Blacks’ biggest stars – Bryan Williams, Michael Jones, Frank Bunce, Kevin Mealamu – down the years coming from Samoan heritage.
“Importantly, we are not only honouring rugby’s Pacific heritage, we are also providing players with a meaningful Test as part of our plan to ensure the All Blacks are in the best possible shape to win in England in 2015,” Impey said.
The test comes partly as a result of strong campaigning from several influential Samoans in rugby circles, not least former Gloucester and Bath centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, who has taken to Twitter to vent his frustrations in the past. This morning, he tweeted his relief this game would finally be happening
Word up everyone from NZ to England to World who fought the good fight. Amazing power of enlightened people active for change #ABsToSamoa
— fuimaono-sapolu (@Eliota_Sapolu) September 9, 2014
Samoa have never beaten New Zealand, but the two sides have incredibly only met five times in the past. The most recent game was a 101-14 mauling in New Plymouth in 2008, but in front of a home crowd and will several All Black starters potentially missing, you’d expect next year’s game to be significantly closer.
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images