7 Jul 2015

ABs begin World Cup quest in Samoa

5:10 am on 7 July 2015

The All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is well aware Samoa will be tough competition in the historic first-ever Test against the Island nation in Apia.

The Samoans have named a side with plenty of Super Rugby and European experience, and Hansen's been repeating his message that the All Blacks have to be ready for a big game on Wednesday.

"If we don't take them seriously we'll get one right between the eyes, because they're a good side," Hansen says.

"You look at the players they've got, all performing well in the UK, a lot of them, and those that aren't in the UK have been performing well here, so the makeup of their team is very very good. They've had two months together... they've been able to prepare, particularly over the last fortnight, which gives them a really big advantage."

Steve Hansen (L) with Dan Carter

Steve Hansen (L) with Dan Carter Photo: Photosport

The All Blacks flew out to Samoa on Monday.

It's the start of the international season and is of course World Cup year, so the competition for spots for places in the defending champions' squad will only intensify.

From 41 initial players named, coach Hansen's got to find his final 31 for the tournament starting in September in England, and with just five Tests before the World Cup begins, Hansen knows the Samoa Test will be crucial - and not just for the likes of debutant wing George Moala or recalled halfback Andy Ellis.

"I don't think it's any more important for Andy or George than anyone else," said Hansen. "It's important for all of us because there's an expectation that we perform to a really high level every time we play."

"And yep, obviously 41 doesn't fit into 31. But you know the players can't control the selection, what they can control is the performance, that's the message they've been given."

Charles Piutau's one player who's been listening. He's leaving the country to ply his trade in Ireland next year for Munster, and Samoa's the start of a big push for World Cup places - especially in the highly contested outside back positions.

"This year, every game is massive and I guess, new territory and Samoa's going to be a physical and tough game, especially in the home crowd," Piutau said. "It's something you know, I think the whole team, everyone that's here, is looking forward to."

Charles Piutau at All Blacks training

Charles Piutau at All Blacks training Photo: Photosport

The team was named Monday morning with one debutant in the starting side, the Blues utility Moala, and another three possible new caps in the reserves: Crusaders prop Nepo Laulala, Chiefs halfback Brad Weber, and Chiefs midfielder Charlie Ngatai.

Moala made his way into the squad as cover for the missing Hurricanes and Highlanders players who were involved in Saturday's Super Rugby final, but he's impressed enough to earn a starting spot on the right wing.

The debutant admits it's been a long road to international rugby for him, following his well-publicised brush with the courts, when he was charged with assault at an Auckland bar in 2012.

George Moala can't wait to take his opportunity with the All Blacks

George Moala can't wait to take his opportunity with the All Blacks Photo: Photosport

Moala was later discharged without conviction, and he says he's grateful for the opportunity with the All Blacks.

"Obviously I've been through a lot, the last couple of years but you know I've left that in the past and I've tried to put my head down and just work hard to get to where I am today and I'm really grateful for the opportunity from Steve Hansen."

"The environment's different, it's more professional, but yeah I've really enjoyed it."

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