Preview: New Zealand v Samoa
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen took a swipe at the British and Irish Lions on Thursday, saying they had split into two squads and were about to call for reinforcements as the first Test looms.
Hansen also warned the tourists to take a good look at how his World Cup-holders play against Samoa on Friday and said the New Zealanders will only get better in next week's opening Test.
Hansen said Lions coach Warren Gatland clearly had a midweek side and a stronger weekend team. Gatland has said he wants to avoid dividing the squad, stressing the importance of harmony.
"There is a clear difference between the two teams, the Wednesday team and the Saturday team. There is definitely a difference between the two squads in the way they're performing," Hansen said.
Hansen said he believed Gatland, with 40 players already on tour, was about to send for reinforcements to have two completely different squads.
"I think he is about to bring a few extra players out to give himself the ability to play two squads. He's at the stage where he wants to do that," he added.
Hansen was speaking on the eve of the All Blacks' dress rehearsal against Samoa, part of a Pacific double-header in Auckland with Tonga also facing Wales.
With the exception of regular captain Kieran Read, who is a week away from returning from a broken thumb, Hansen said he was starting his strongest available line-up.
"We want to start the ball rolling and get away to a good start and whatever we do on Friday night we'll be able to improve on the following week," he said, adding the focus first was to beat Samoa.
"Whilst the Lions is a dance that's happening in the background, and we're watching that with interest, there's a responsibility to the jersey and those that have been before us, that we go out and take this Test match seriously and respect Samoan rugby."
Fullback Ben Smith will lead the side in place of Read, and Aaron Smith, who suffered a from lapse last year, has been restored as the first choice scrumhalf. Jerome Kaino will get his first start in eight weeks since undergoing knee surgery.
Hansen said the important thing for his team, in their first game together this year, was to shift from their clubs' defensive and attack patterns and move fluently into the All Blacks style.
"If we can get through the game getting those connections going again, getting back into the All Blacks way, play with a bit of intensity and pace, with some accuracy, it will be good and obviously keeping an eye on the scoreboard," he stated.
Players to watch:
For New Zealand: You can easily go through the entire All Blacks matchday 23 and mention each of them, however, the focus would be more on the way they come together as a unit. If there is one player to keep an eye on though, it's Jordie Barrett who could potentially make his debut off the bench.
For Samoa: Kieron Fonotia will want to make a massive statement on his return to New Zealand while a lot will rest on Kahn Fotualii's leadership. Tim Nanai-Williams is the only member of the Samoan team who is currently plying his trade in Super Rugby. Of the remaining 22 players, 18 are based in the United Kingdom and France, one plays in Japan and the remainder is Southern Hemisphere based. With such a wide base, it could be interesting to see how they come together as a unit.
Head to head: The pivots of Tusiata Pisi and Beauden Barrett will be brilliant to watch while the real battles come in the set-pieces. The work of Owen Franks, Codie Taylor and Joe Moody in the scrums, will set the tone for the upcoming Lions matches as they will have tough opponents in Census Johnston, Ma'atulimanu Leiataua and Viliamu Afatia. Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are going to be key at line-out time and will need to show their superiority over Faatiga Lemalu and Chris Vui.
2015: New Zealand won 25-16, Apia
2008: New Zealand won 101-14, New Plymouth
2001: New Zealand won 50-6, Albany
1999: New Zealand won 71-13, Albany
1996: New Zealand won 51-10, Napier
1993: New Zealand won 35-13, Auckland
Prediction: No-one is giving Samoa a chance and while we agree, it may just be closer than the consensus. The All Blacks are certainly using this match as a warm-up to test themselves and their combinations, so a few errors can be expected. For that, we suspect the All Blacks will claim victory by 15 points.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Vaea Fifita, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Jordie Barrett.
Samoa: 15 Ah See Tuala, 14 Albert Nikoro, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Tusiata Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotualii (captain), 8 Faifili Levave, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Piula Fa'aselele, 5 Faatiga Lemalu, 4 Chris Vui, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Ma'atulimanu Leiataua, 1 Viliamu Afatia.
Replacements: 16 Seilala Lam, 17 Nephi Leatigaga, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Taiasina Tuifua, 20 Alafoti Faosiliva, 21 Auvasa Falealii, 22 D'Angelo Leuila, 23 Ken Pisi.
Date: Friday, June 16
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 20.00 (08:00 GMT, 21.00 Samoa time)
Expected weather: Light cloud cover can be expected with a gentle breeze. A low of 10°C and a high of 16°C.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)