Lion Hunt

'It's a different beast coming' - All Blacks not getting cocky after 12-try win

Sonny Bill Williams says the Test series against the Lions will feel like playing in a World Cup final.

Murray Kinsella reports from Eden Park, Auckland

STEVE HANSEN BROUGHT an immediate sense of realism to proceedings after the All Blacks’ 12-try, 78-0 win over Samoa last night had served to warn the Lions of the attacking quality they will face over three Tests in the next month.

The Kiwis’ scintillating performance came against poor opposition who were extremely limited in defence, but it was nonetheless a sharp reminder for the Lions of their need to be in superb form next weekend at Eden Park in the first Test.

TJ Perenara scores a try TJ Perenara was among the try scorers against Samoa. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

While Hansen was pleased with his side’s captivating dominance over the Samoans, he understands that the Lions will offer a completely different challenge.

“It was a pretty good start, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” said Hansen. “We’re playing opposition [Samoa] where most of those guys haven’t played for five weeks so you don’t want to read too much into their performance or ours.

“We’re happy with the start and we have a lot of work to do. We had a nice run, got some good combinations working and just about everyone who played showed some nice touches throughout the night.

“We did a lot of stuff well but, like I said before, it’s just a start. This team has to be way better at everything we do if we want to compete against the Lions.”

The likes of Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith, Anton Lienert-Brown and Brodie Retallick were superb for the Kiwis in an excellent collective performance.

Sonny Bill Williams and Lienert-Brown showed signs of forming an effective midfield partnership on their first outing together – although Ryan Crotty may return next weekend – and the All Blacks came through without fresh injuries.

The Lions have been nowhere near as impressive on their tour of New Zealand so far, but their win over the Crusaders last weekend underlined to the All Blacks that they will have a good fight on their hands in the Test series.

Sonny Bill Williams consoles Tim Nani Williams after the game Sonny Bill Williams with his cousin Tim Nanai Williams. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

“I think we have to understand that it is a different beast coming,” said inside centre Williams. “With that comes expectations, with that comes another level.

“It would be easy for us just to see their past performances and think we are just going to go out there and roll them, but come next week it is just going to be another level.

“Having been in the lucky position to have played in big games I kind of understand that is what big games bring, the emotions and all of the things that come with it.”

Among the many positives for the All Blacks were Beauden Barrett’s seven-out-of-eight performance off the kicking tee, the unselfish influence of Israel Dagg and Julian Savea on the wings, and a solid scrum platform that allowed them to strike for first-phase tries.

The set-piece looked smooth for the All Blacks throughout and though there is an expectation that the Lions will target the Kiwis in this department, Hansen isn’t so sure.

“I’ve been here since 2004 and every year we get told we’re going to get targeted at the set-piece,” said Hansen.

“It’s a great challenge the set-piece, isn’t it? We’ll look forward to it, getting ourselves ready for it and hopefully we can match them.”

Hansen wouldn’t confirm if number eight and captain Kieran Read will be fit and available after his thumb injury, but it is widely expected that he will be, leaving the All Blacks in fine health.

Kieran Read hands a water bottle to Lima Sopoaga Read was on waterboy duty last night. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Influential hooker Dane Coles will be missing, but the All Blacks still have big-game players all over the pitch.

And having waited 12 years for the Lions to return to Kiwi soil, these players are incredibly excited for next weekend. Many of them have played in World Cup finals, but that’s the level this series feels like to the All Blacks.

“Having the honour of being able to run out for the Blues against them, that is what it felt like,” said Williams. “Before the game I remember sitting down and looking at Rieko [Ioane], who is looking at me and he is going pretty nervous, eh bro?

“I’m shitting myself. But you know those emotions are why we play rugby.

“Having the privilege and blessing of playing rugby for close to about a year, I understood, ‘OK, happiness shouldn’t evolve around the game and it is just a game’ but it’s just the emotions you love, the feelings and next week is definitely that.”

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