League: Kiwis seize control, thump Samoa

By Michael Brown

New Zealand 50 Samoa 6

Masada Iosefa of Toa Samoa looks to evade the Kiwis defence. Photo / Getty Images
Masada Iosefa of Toa Samoa looks to evade the Kiwis defence. Photo / Getty Images

There was a sense of nervousness about the Kiwis before last night's game. Captain Benji Marshall had even said the result wasn't important.

In the end, it was like a training run. The Kiwis overran Samoa and will go into Saturday's Four Nations opener against England in a good place.

They absorbed early pressure before exerting control and scoring 10 tries.

The Samoans will be hurting. They lined up with a side full of household names, including a host of former Kiwis like Francis Meli, Tony Puletua, Ali Lauitiiti, David Solomona and David Faiumu. They were expected to put up a fight but couldn't cope with the Kiwis.

Many of the Kiwis hadn't played for more than a month and hadn't assembled as a group since the Anzac test - but many of the Samoan players had been unemployed even longer. They tired and struggled to get out of their half in the second half.

The Kiwis weren't without their rust. It was to be expected.

They were very good at times and defended stoutly keeping Samoa out for 78 minutes but they also made errors, particularly in the first 40 minutes, and gave away too many penalties.

Those are elements that can be ironed out and, crucially, they emerged unscathed - unlike England earlier.

Manu Vatuvei went off seven minutes early with a leg injury but it looked only a precaution.

Shaun Kenny-Dowall scored in the ninth minute and added another 11 minutes later, when he latched on to a Marshall grubber. Marshall and Jason Nightingale followed him over.

All four tries were scored down their right edge through a combination of quick passing and clever kicks. They showed some good variations and were sure to have left even more in the closet for next weekend.

England, who stayed at the ground to watch after their 18-18 draw with New Zealand Maori in the curtainraiser, would have picked some things up. Thomas Leuluai moved into dummy-half when Issac Luke took a spell and Nathan Fien slotted into halfback to provide the Kiwis with options, including a long passing game.

The Kiwis also looked to play with pace - it was certainly a step-up in speed from the curtainraiser - and Samoa couldn't cope.

The only selection issue might be around right wing. Sam Perrett wasn't risked last night because of a leg injury but it would be difficult to leave Nightingale out. He scored one try and set up another.

Perrett could move into centre for Kenny-Dowall. The Roosters centre, who has had a stellar year, might have scored two tries but he countered that with four errors inside the opening 50 minutes. Kenny-Dowall had looked to have erased errors from his game but they were back last night.

Junior Sau at left centre might also be under threat and Simon Mannering spent time there in the second half with coach Stephen Kearney having plenty of options in the second row.

But Kearney will enjoy the dilemma. The Kiwis are building depth and should be genuine Four Nations contenders, especially playing at home.

They also have Vatuvei, surely the best winger in the world, and the Beast scored a second-half double with a couple of bullocking runs. He is much bigger than anything England have and they will do well to contain him if he is fit.

New Zealand scored three late tries but Samoa had the final say, the most popular among the healthy crowd, but Kiwi fans will be optimistic.

New Zealand 50 (S. Kenny-Dowall 2, M. Vatuvei 2, J. Nightingale, B. Marshall, N. Fien, T. Leuluai, L. Hohaia, F. Pritchard tries; B. Marshall 2 gls, I. Luke 3 gls) Samoa 6 (P. Godinet J. Paulo gl). HT: 16-0.

- NZ Herald

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