Kiwis get the job done but say they can improve much more.
Defending champions New Zealand were left disappointed but not deflated after a bruising opening 42-24 World Cup victory over a Samoa side that refused to lie down.
The Kiwis looked to have the match wrapped up after four tries in the opening 23 minutes, allied with three more in the first eight minutes of the second period, Manu Vatuvei later rounding off a hat-trick.
But the doughty Samoans upped their physicality to score five tries of their own, much to the delight of the hugely partisan capacity 14,000 crowd.
“We definitely lost our way,” admitted Kiwi captain Simon Mannering, scorer of two tries. “For a period in that second half, we didn’t touch the ball for six or seven sets.
“They played very well. We’ve got to be disappointed with the way we defended.
“Hopefully it’s a shot in the arm and there are lots of things to work on.”
The loose forward, whose team next play France in Avignon on Friday, added: “There was initial disappointment, but it’s nothing to get deflated about, there’s a long way to go in the tournament. We’ve got to improve every week.”
Mannering also stressed that there was no extra pressure coming into the tournament as defending champions, saying it had not even been used as a motivating factor.
“It’s a new group,” he said. “We know how we can play and it’s up to us to live up to our potential.”
Coach Stephen Kearney added: “I wouldn’t say it was entirely disappointing. The Samoa side played with a lot of energy during that period. We dropped a lot of balls and they gained momentum.
“The lads spoke on the pitch straight after the game. There were some good parts. But Samoa played really well for a 20-25-minute period in the second-half… and consequently put some tries on us.”
Kearney, whose last game as a player for the Kiwis was when Sonny Bill Williams made his debut in 2004, had time for a rueful smile over a schoolboy error by the sport’s number one draw.
Williams, bidding to become the first man to win the World Cup in both rugby codes after helping the All Blacks to glory in 2011, broke the Samoan defence towards the end of the match, slicing through with a sublime line-break, dummy and fend, sprinting away past the whitewash with no defender in sight.
Disaster was to follow, however: ball in one hand, Williams dotted down deep in the in-goal area, but slipped as he did so, leaving the video referee with no choice but to rule out the try for touch in goal.
“He might want to check his boots next time!” joked Kearney. “It was a good indication of that period of the game.”
Samoa’s St Helens forward Iosia Soliloa said his team had been rocked by the Kiwis’ tough opening period in both halves.
“It was tough in the first part of the second-half. Then we had a bit of possession and the boys’ belief carried us forward,” he said, keeping a special mention for the amazing atmosphere generated by the crowd in support of Samoa.
“Playing over here (in the Super League), I know how passionate rugby league fans are. My heart goes out to that crowd.”
Samoa coach Matt Parish dubbed his team’s performance “courageous”, notably finishing with only 15 men.
“We need to improve, we’ve been together 10 days, we need to get the combinations right. There were definitely a few defensive lapses and we let in some soft tries,” he said.
“At half-time, I told them they needed to keep their composure and do what we’ve been practising.
“We had some momentum and the run of the game for parts of it.”