Taking advantage of two seasons of intense Super Rugby in New Zealand, in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Māori All Blacks were too strong for a Samoan side making its first appearance since the 2019 Rugby World Cup, winning the first of two ‘Tests’ 35–10 in Wellington on Saturday.
Conditions were wet with a swirling wind, and the Māori forward pack took advantage to deny Samoa the opportunity to achieve their first win over the New Zealanders, who have extended their winning advantage to 11 successes.
Samoa were competitive, but a strong finish to the first half by the Maori proved the difference, especially as Māori forward power dominated the second half, the only Samoan points coming from a penalty goal. However, they were denied a last-minute try when replacement prop Michael Alaalatoa lost the ball diving for the line.
Starting like a new combination still getting used to playing together, the Māori All Blacks quickly turned that around and, in their first excursion into Samoa’s 22m area, in the eighth minute, they used a collapsed lineout maul to make their first statement.
The ball was freed under penalty advantage, moved through the backline where quick hands from second five-eighths Alex Nankivell saw fullback Kaleb Trask into the line where he slipped a kick to the in-goal which provided wing Shaun Stevenson with the chance to secure the ball to open the scoring.
Soon after when struggling to secure a high ball in the swirling wind, Trask saw drop the ball. From the resulting play it appeared they had scored in the 20th minute. Halfback Dwayne Polataivao had run into a gap before passing to flanker Henry Stowers who ran in for a try. However, referree Nick Berry asked the TMO to check. He found an obstruction which resulted in a penalty being awarded and the try being ruled out.
Whatever disadvantage the Samoans felt, they had quick reward after first five-eighths Otere Black attempted an intercept on a Samoan blindside move, but the ball dropped to the ground. Wing Neria Fomai was covering, picked up the ball and chipped ahead, won the race for the ball and slid in for a try which first five-eighths Rodney Ioana converted superbly from out wide by using the wind to curve the ball between the posts.
But the Māori struck back from a lineout move in the Samoa 22m area. Dixon threw the ball in, swept across the back of the lineout to take the ball. He fed Nankiville running back on the angle. He broke the defence and in-passed to wing Sean Wainui who was unchallenged to score.
The conditions didn’t deter the Māori All Blacks from running the ball when they could and when Trask ran into the line to take a long pass from Black, he took the gap at speed and fed Wainui. He put a kick slightly back infield and from the ruck it was Nankiville who secured the ball which allowed Trask, who had moved up to first receiver, to slip a kick across to the corner where Stevenson strolled through vacant territory to score his second.
Into the second half, the Māori used their forward pack to draw in the Samoan defence. The drives from lineouts started to have their effect where lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit was a dominant source of possession. Into the 55th minute, the maul had its inevitable reward when skipper and hooker Ash Dixon was on the back of the drive to score the try, signalling his relief as substitute Kurt Eklund took his place.
The introduction of Tamaiti Williams at loosehead prop for the final quarter did nothing to lessen the pressure on the Samoan scrum. It got heavier, as the Samoans ended up under warning for scrum infringements. That was behind No8 Whetukamokamo Douglas’ 66th minute try from a five-metre scrum. The Samoans were in retreat and Douglas picked the ball up and was unchallenged in a canter to the line.
Māori All Blacks 35 (Shaun Stevenson 2, Sean Wainui, Ash Dixon, Whetukamokamo Douglas tries; Otere Black 3 con; Josh Ioane 2 con)
Manu Samoa 10 (Neria Fomai tries; Rodney Ioana con, pen)