There aren't many more frustrating things with regards to the All Blacks than the dramatic conclusions that some people seem to come to after one game. After a game in which a large portion of the best 22 weren't a part of and a game that was about as far removed from a World Cup fixture in England as you can get.
We have to keep it really, really real and say that this game between the All Blacks and Samoa, in Apia served a far more important purpose than an early season hit out, but we've heard about all that before. Plus, The Chip And Chase is no place for NZRU bashing, I keep that confined to the Monday Crumbs, Midweek Bulletin and Friday Frills, we're here because it's a mighty year of international rugby and all the peripheral stuff stays on the periphery.
One of the big benefits of this game was the physicality, which probably also served as one of the only aspects of the game that truly resembled a Test match. Everything else, from both the All Blacks and Samoa (more on Samoa in The Chase section) was reasonably poo as both teams bumbled and fumbled their way around the park giving up penalties all over the show and just generally lacking any sort of cohesion. But what did we expect?
In that sense the All Blacks, or this form of the All Blacks accepted the challenge of a Samoan side who were out to intimidate and bruise, and withstood that challenge. That's where we can draw the most out of this game - there's no easing into the international season, we got a highly physical clash first up, it's stored away and the tone has been set.
Take a look at George Moala, who bore the brunt of that physicality but hung around to reap the rewards later on in the match. I get shivers just thinking about how many rucks Richie McCaw hit in that game, how many times he got cleaned out and you only had to take a look at Luke Romano's left eye, or lack thereof to get a reminder that this was very much Test match rugby.
There are two blokes who are going to draw plenty of focus on themselves this year and I'm going to keep a close eye on them because I think both McCaw and Dan Carter will play huge roles in this World Cup campaign. Yesterday, as I said, I watched McCaw hit ruck after ruck after ruck, I saw McCaw sprint, jog, flop, sprint, ruck, jog his way up the field as the All Blacks went from ruck to ruck from their try-line to the Samoan 22 metre line - it's safe to say that McCaw can still do the job in my eyes.
Carter's case is a bit more intriguing as he's got some competition with Beauden Barrett being a fine young number 10. From this game, the biggest thing I took away from Carter's performance was that at this stage he's my front runner to start a World Cup final. I've come to love this Dan Carter 2.0 and I reckon that this current version of Carter perfectly suits the All Blacks and what they'll need at the World Cup. They don't need the Carter who sliced and diced his way through defences, similar to what Barrett is now and with a backline full of weapons - Nonu, Smith x2, Savea etc Carter just needs to be able to pick the right guy at the right time.
Carter's left boot is well trained in all aspects of kicking and I dunno, I just like his composure and how easy he makes controlling a game of footy look. Throw in the fact that I don't think the All Blacks are going to be able to play their hyperactive style in England later this year and Carter's control which flies under the radar because he's not making highlight plays, will be a nice asset.
Nepo Laulala also looks like very handy young prop, just easy on the celebrations ya?
I think we're in for an almighty battle over the next few months for the starting fullback spot with Israel Dagg up against Ben Smith. Dagg hasn't got his case off to a great start as he wasn't flash against Samoa and I'm leaning towards Smith at this point.
We've also got to remember that a lot of these players won't actually be a part of any full strength 22. Guys like Andy Ellis, Moala and even someone like Ryan Crotty will struggle to find much game time if everybody is on board so there's not much point in reading too much into their play.
I'm still curious as to how Sonny Bill Williams fits in. He was a bit of a non-factor against Samoa and I'd go with Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith over SBW, which puts him on the bench - he's a great guy to have off the bench or stepping in to start for a game here and there.
Overall verdict - whatever.
RIP Colin Slade
I've got no real idea about the Samoans besides that Tusi Pisi looks like a solid 10, who could combine the physical play with some control and leadership. They obviously have a forward pack who can match any team in the world if you wanna run it straight, but the work of Jack Lam needs to be highlighted.
The Bristol flanker won a bunch of turnovers and if he can stay healthy throughout this campaign, then Samoa will have a nice ball-winner to go with their behemoth's.
Samoa's problem was (and will be) that the first half basically strengthened any stereotype you might have about the Samoan rugby team. Any chance they had with the ball was quickly squandered with a drop here or there, a kick out on the full or some sort of relieving penalty. It actually looked like New South Wales and Samoa had opted to play the same sort of game and it obviously didn't work.
I heard one of the dumb commentators say how great it was to have a local player in the Samoan team (sorry mate, no idea which player you were) and that there should be many more local players playing for Samoa. No.
What's better for Samoan rugby - having a team of local players who are getting paid jack-shit or having a team of players based in Europe who are professionals and exposed to high quality rugby on a weekly basis and then return to Samoa to spread the good vibes?
Well, the catch is that at the moment the European clubs run the show. So the issue for international rugby and the biggest issue for international rugby at the moment is the disparity between the international game and the big European clubs. If every nation could field full strength squads because the European clubs HAD to release their players, then the international game would flourish.
It would offer the best of both worlds as players from tiny islands can earn what they deserve/what someone is willing to pay as well as representing their nation.
It's an issue that we don't care about here in Aotearoa because we live upon our all black throne, complete with tinted windows and black rims, but for mine, it's a huge issue that could hold international rugby back.
While the All Blacks are playing 'charity' fixtures and the Australia and South Africa prepare to jam the Rugby Championship, England are heading to Denver for what you will assume will be an intense training camp. We'll know a bit more about England once they start to make a few cuts to their big ol' squad but it opens up a bit of a question about the best preparation for the World Cup. England will spend a whole lot of time together, a bit of team bonding ya know and will get a substantial period of time to figure out plans and get faster and stronger. Will this be better than a consistent flow of rugby? Time will tell.
South Africa will take on a 'World XI' this weekend and have named debutant Jesse Kriel in the 13 jersey while Vincent Koch could make his debut off the bench.
15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Oupa Mohoje, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jean de Villiers.
For what it's worth (not much) here's the World XI squad:
Delon Armitage (Toulon, England), Luke Burgess (Melbourne Rebels, Australia), JJ Engelbrecht (Bulls, South Africa), Mike Harris (Reds, Australia), Andrew Horrell (Chiefs), Maxime Machenaud (Racing Metro, France), Maxime Mermoz (Toulon, France), David Smith (Toulon), Lachlan Turner (Reds, Australia), Rudi Wulf (Toulon, New Zealand), Steffon Armitage (Toulon, England), Bakkies Botha (Toulon, South Africa), Craig Burden (Toulon, South Africa), Petrus du Plessis (Saracens), Carl Hayman (Toulon, New Zealand),Louis-Benoit Madaule (Bordeaux-Begles), Alexandre Menini (Toulon, France), David Roumieu (Bayonne), Gurthrö Steenkamp (Toulouse, South Africa), Jordan Taufua (Crusaders), Flip van der Merwe (Bulls, South Africa), Luke Whitelock (Crusaders, New Zealand), Ali Williams (Toulon, New Zealand).