Jeff Wilson, who took a break from the game last year, feels lucky to be playing his 55th test for the All Blacks against Samoa tomorrow after an indifferent Super 12 season and wants to repay the faith placed in him.



Wilson has been picked ahead of Jonah Lomu for his first appearance for the All Blacks on the left wing and that will make the game at Albany's North Harbour Stadium all the more important to him.



Wilson, who scored three tries and a conversion on his test debut as a 19-year-old against Scotland at Murrayfield in 1993, took nine months out of the game in 2000 and his return to the Highlanders in 2001 had its problems.



"A lot of people have been saying I didn't do much in the Super 12," Wilson told Reuters.

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"But I missed four games in the middle which knocked my confidence. I didn't feel as if I was playing poorly but I sure as hell wasn't playing outstanding rugby.



"I got better as the season went on and got involved more but when it came down to it I guess my opportunities on the field were limited."



Wilson conceded that his chance for this test came through what he had done in the past. In his 54 tests to date he has scored 39 tries playing at fullback or on the right wing and has been dynamic in most of those matches.



"I'm just glad to be out there," he said. "I don't mind playing on the left because Dougie (Howlett, the right wing) is a brilliant player.



"I guess I'd rather play at fullback but wing is where I am and I will be working very hard to pay back the people that have backed me and got me in the test team."



Wilson took time out of the game after the 2000 Super 12 season "to get a little more of my own space".



"I wanted to feel my life wasn't everybody else's life," he said.



His father - his "guiding light and friend" - died recently and Wilson knows he would have wanted his son back in the game in which he has excelled from a young age.



Wilson looks at Saturday's test as an unknown. "We have got to get out and execute everything we have been working on," he said.



"We have to control the game. That's what you have to do against a team like Samoa. They come at you hard, so you've got to take them on and play with a lot of heart and pride in the jersey."



Wayne Smith, the All Black coach, said there was no such thing as an easy match and would not concede that New Zealand should win with ease.



"Every test is difficult for the All Blacks because we are expected to win everything. We haven't had a run together yet," Smith said.



"It's all very well going through moves and combinations on the training pitch but the acid test is in a match. A lot of the Samoans play in New Zealand and they know our game and we've got a lot of respect for them."



Smith said he had watched Wilson closely in the Super 12 and the player's work in the games had been good.



"He worked hard off the ball but he did lack a bit of confidence, which was a new phenomenon for him," Smith said.



"He's worked hard to get that back and he deserves his chance to show he's still got what it takes at the top level."



Samoa coach John Boe banned the media from his team on Thursday and trained at a secret location.



Boe and his assistant, former All Black Michael Jones, are being helped by ex-New Zealand winger Va'aiga Tuigamala.



Jones and Tuigamala have both talked of the pride of Samoan rugby his week and said their team was looking forward to playing on the biggest rugby stage in the world.



Just two of the Samoans play on the island but one of them, winger Afato So'oalo, plays Super 12 rugby for the Canterbury Crusaders in New Zealand.



The rest play in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, England, Italy and France and will provide plenty of effort, none more so than Wasps hooker Trevor Leota.



Teams:


All Blacks:

- Leon MacDonald, Doug Howlett, Jeff Wilson, Tana Umaga, Pita Alatini, Tony Brown, Byron Kelleher, Ron Cribb, Marty Holah, Reuben Thorne, Norm Maxwell, Troy Flavell, Greg Somerville, Anton Oliver (captain), Carl Hoeft.



Reserves: Mark Hammett, Carl Hayman, Chris Jack, Taine Randell, Justin Marshall, Andrew Mehrtens, Mark Ranby.



Samoa:

Silao Leaega, Fa'apulou Soolefai, Terry Fanoloua, Fereti Tuilagi, Afato So'oalo, Earl Va'a, Steven So'oalo, Junior Paramore, Craig Glendinning, Semo Sititi (captain), Saveasiuleo Lafaiali'i, Opeta Paiepoi, Polo Asi, Trevor Leota, Mark Luafaiealo.


Reserves: Joe Filemu, Tanner Vili, Elvis Seveali'i, Patrick Segi, Ace Tiatia, Kas Lealamanua, Lama Tone.



- REUTERS