A mighty tall mountain but it can be conquered
There are two likely scenarios for the Manu Samoa when they run out onto Eden Park tonight for their opening test match against the All Blacks.
The first and the best scenario is that the All Blacks will already be thinking about the Lions Series (not that they have much to worry judging by the Lions poor performance so far) so that they will be distracted.
The second and worst case scenario is that the All Blacks are treating tonight’s test as a practice run for the series against the Lions. Which means unless the men in blue are up for it, it could be a long night at Eden Park – and even longer for all of us supporting them back home.
Whatever the outcome will be, there is one thing we are sure of.
For any team, playing the number one team in the world is both a privilege and a pain. Privilege in the sense they have the opportunity to test their skills against the best of the best.
But it’s often a painful privilege. We know the All Blacks is a well-oiled machine and when all engines are firing, they are ruthless and the result are scorelines best described as cricket margins. Samoa has been on the receiving end of some of those hidings over the years.
History tells us that our best result was two years ago at Apia Park where the loss was a respectable 25-16 scoreline. But things have changed. A lot has changed in fact. And looking at the Manu Samoa’s recent history, there is not a lot to be confident about.
Don’t get us wrong. Like all Manu Samoa supporters, we’d like nothing more than our team scoring the biggest upset in history. Which is why we hope the All Blacks are coming into this game with the frame of mind in scenario number one.
A distracted All Blacks is a vulnerable team. If they are already thinking about the Lions while they are playing Samoa, they will regret it.
Although the men in black are the overwhelming favourites, the Manu Samoa team named to play tonight is no slouch either. There are some quality footballers in there that can be fantastic when they are on. Indeed, there is plenty of quality rugby in the Manu Samoa team if they can pull it together.
Looking at the teams on paper, one the biggest challenges for coach Namulauulu Alama Ieremia is making sure his men stick with their opponents.
Manu Samoa might have plenty of experience, which is great. But whether those players still have the tank to foot it with new and emerging players in the All Blacks is another question. It doesn’t help that the test is being played in the middle of the Super Rugby season, which ensures the All Blacks are in top shape. And with places in the test team against the Lions up for grabs, the All Blacks will be out to make a statement.
Having said that, rugby is a game of halves. Believe it or not, even the best can be beaten. The All Blacks is no exception.
The Manu Samoa must go into the game tonight with that mentality.
Far too often, Manu Samoa teams of the past are already defeated before they enter the paddock so that the game becomes a matter of keeping the scoreline to a minimum rather than trying to win.
There is no doubt that Ben Smith’s All Blacks are the standard. They are the benchmark all world teams must aspire to.
But they too are vulnerable.
And if there is anything in Manu Samoa’s favour, this is their first test match of 2017 where the All Blacks too will be trying to find their feet. This is when they become susceptible.
Back in Apia during the historical test match against the All Blacks, Samoa’s physicality and clinical play surprised the All Blacks.
It was their first test of the year and it nearly threw them off guard. Coupled with the deafening roar of the Apia Park crowd, Manu Samoa was robbed of a famous win.
Fast forward to now, the Manu Samoa will not have the same privilege tonight.
They are in Auckland, it’s cold and Samoa’s supporters will be outnumbered obviously.
Keep in mind we are talking about Eden Park, the venue for a double header involving Tonga, which should ensure plenty of support for our Manu Samoa.
We know it’s a tough ask, a mountain of a task for coach Namulauulu Alama Ieremia and his men to overcome.
But they can do it.
They just need to be hungrier, they need to be more aggressive, play smarter and not let the All Blacks get a head start.
Most importantly, they have to be mentally strong. They have to win in their heads first.
They cannot think that this is just going to be just like any other game in the past where Samoa has been on the receiving end of massive hidings.
That said, here’s wishing coach Namulauulu, Captain Kahn Fotuali’i and the Manu Samoa all the best. O outou mama na!