The All Blacks break new ground when they take on an under-strength Manu Samoa at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth tonight. Whilst the match is little more than practice for the All Balcks as they build up to the Tri-Nations decider in Brisbane on Saturday week, New Plymouth is giving the team a sell-out crowd.
This is a great PR exercise by the NZRU. Ticket prices were kept low, and the Taranaki faithful nsapped them up in quick-smart time. It's a rare visit to the provinces for the AB's, but I am sure that they will have been blown away by the warmth of the welcome they have received.
The match itself should be little more than a training run for an almost full-strength All Black team, but I'm sure the Taranaki public won't mind. The AB's are in town, and according to a friend from up that way, New Plymouth will be buzzing tonight. And it's a big night for Rodney So'oialo - not only does he play his 50th test; he becomes the first Samoan to captain the All Blacks against Manu Samoa.
UPDATE: New Zealand 101; Manu Samoa 14
A pretty scrappy match, but a lot of running rugby, with the AB's scoring 15 tries to two - the final try coming after the fulltime hooter, with the pressure on Stephen Donald to convert and bring up only the fifth All Black century.
A good hit-out for the All Blacks - certainly a good chance to get some of the cobwebs out of the system before the most important match of the season to date next week. A win to the All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium will see both the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations locked away for another year - bring it on!