When I heard that the All Blacks were finally playing a test match in Samoa, I thought, awesome. For me, it seems funny that the All Blacks haven't played in Samoa before, despite the proximity to New Zealand and the fact that the All Blacks have played against similar ranked teams like Italy and Scotland away, you would think that this match is long overdue. You also must remember that there are so many players with Pacific Island ancestory in the current and past All Blacks sides, although many of them moved to New Zealand as children or were actually born in New Zealand. There are also players in the Samoan team from New Zealand too, so there should be some kind of relationship.
Reading some recent articles then made me wonder if this All Blacks game in Samoa really is going to benefit the Samoan and Pacific Island people at all, but the problem is that it also isn't really the All Blacks fault either. It seems that the scheduling and series of events, now makes me wonder, how much the locals stand to gain from this All Blacks match.
1) The All Blacks have named a relatively experienced starting lineup, but because of the scheduling so close to the Super Rugby final, there will be no Highlanders or Hurricanes playing for the All Blacks. They do have the depth to probably still win, but when you consider the top All Blacks team would feature the likes of Dane Coles, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu and Julian Savea, with a supporting cast of TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Jeremy Thrush, Ben Franks, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo, there are some talented players who won't be on display in this game. Sure, the All Blacks have enough depth, but it would be good to see a top team in Samoa.
2) Because of the situation with the Hurricanes and Highlanders not playing, it means that the All Blacks' selectors are left having to pick some young talented players from Super Rugby. Some of these players like George Moala and Nepo Laulala have Pacific Island heritage and playing for the All Blacks will mean that they must commit to them for good. The only problem will be when the incumbents return to the All Blacks squad from the Hurricanes and Highlanders. Playing this game against Samoa could be the only time these guys get an All Blacks test (although hopefully not for their sake), and this could deny them the chance to help the Pacific Nations, by playing test rugby for them.
3) The timing of this game is midweek, surely Samoa deserves a weekend test match. The global viewing audience will be relatively big for a midweek game, but a weekend game would be bigger. Waiting for the weekend might also allow some of the Highlanders and Hurricanes to play, but alas it seems that time is limited and they had to make this game a midweek game.
4) The stadium has been restricted to only 8000 seats, for an All Blacks game? But the Apia Park stadium originally had 12,000 seats according to this article on Stuff , but they had to lose 4000 seats for safety reasons. You would think that they would sort this out earlier and get as many seats as possible. 8000 seats makes it the same size, or even smaller than some Heartland Championship grounds in New Zealand. Ironically, 10,000 tourists are supposed to be arriving in Samoa, so I am not sure what happens to the 2000 fans without tickets?
5) Money. There are two issues with money, The tickets are too expensive for most locals to afford. Tickets start at 40 tala ($22NZ) and go up to 500 tala (nearly $300NZ) for sideline grandstand tickets. Given that there is an influx of around 10,000 visitors for this game, most people at the game will probably be from New Zealand, since the average local wage is 200 tala per week. Even the cheapest tickets would be worth one or two days of working wages for several people. Surely the All Blacks could have stepped in and offered cheap tickets to locals. Given the limited stadium capacity and the reason for this trip, making money is obviously not a priority from this venture. It also begs the question of what happens to any money Samoa gets from the match? Surely, Samoan Rugby Union would get paid more for playing in New Zealand where there are big stadiums and more people can afford to attend, but I would like to think given the recently controversy around Samoan rugby, that if there is any money made, it goes back into the development of the game and to the right person.
By the sounds of it, the locals are loving having the All Blacks in town, even though most locals can't afford to go to the game. The All Blacks brought up a century the last time these two teams met, but hopefully this game is closer, although 22 points is the narrowest margin between these two teams.
It is difficult to know what can be done about these potential annoyances, but if the idea of this game is to grow the game in that area, then it would be best if as many locals can attend the game as possible, although it is hard with only an 8000 seat stadium.
I wonder if with more preparation time, more could have been done to improve the scheduling and the facilities, but it seems that the calendar is so full, that it makes it difficult to change. But these things probably need to be improved if they want to get more big name teams in the Pacific Islands. You can see why the NZRU has been reluctant to play in Samoa in the past, when they can play in a massive stadium in Hong Kong, USA or Japan instead.
I love the idea of this game between the All Blacks and Samoa, but I can now see why the big teams haven't played in the Pacific Islands before, as from a financial standpoint, it isn't really an attractive option. So, good on the All Blacks for playing in the Pacific Islands. It will be a good chance to see some new players for the All Blacks and to get a good hit-out before the Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup, and of course, to show some love to the countries who have links with many past and present All Blacks of Pacific Island heritage.
What do you think about the All Blacks vs Samoa game?