EDEN PARK, Auckland -- This was the perfect hit out for the All Blacks. In their first Test of the year, New Zealand saw off Samoa 78-0 at Eden Park, showcasing some of their brutal ruthlessness in the process.
Steve Hansen wanted this match to be the one where they ridded themselves of rustiness, and it was scrappy at times. The first 20 minutes saw uncharacteristic errors, even from Beauden Barrett. But then they found their tempo and in the blink of an eye they had scored three quickfire tries to build on their first after 12 minutes.
The second half was an exercise in clinical finishing from the All Blacks. Samoa were already defeated at this point but that didn't stop the hosts from racking up the tries. They scored 12 tries in total as they took full advantage of the length and breadth of the Eden Park pitch.
Warren Gatland would have been keeping a close eye on proceedings in Auckland. He would have seen the pace the All Blacks move the ball, their effectiveness off first phase, but will be focusing on areas he feels they can get ascendancy in. Here is the All Blacks' progress report from Eden Park.
Beauden Barrett finds his feet
It was a slow start from the world's best player. He kicked out on the full with one clearance and made one offload to Samoan hands. He was also subject to some rough justice from the Samoan centres but then came his try where he finished superbly.
Ben Smith made the break, Aaron Smith took it up, Sonny Bill Williams offloaded and Barrett finished. Then came his role in their third try as he played a key role in putting Ardie Savea away for a wonderful effort showcasing their ruthlessness. He also put in the key pass to tee up Sonny Bill Williams for their try on the stroke of half time.
In the second half as the game lost its structure, the All Blacks kept the ball more in hands and he managed to scrape the ball off the turf to keep the move going which led to Julian Savea's score. Then he finished off the sweeping first-phase strike move to grab his second after 59 minutes. He was replaced two minutes later by Lima Sopoaga, but this was an impressive all-round performance.
Offloads king for brilliant centre partnership
Anton Lienert-Brown was outstanding for the All Blacks. His offload to Israel Dagg for their score at the start of the second half was just a thing of beauty as he made a total of three assists in the game. He worked well with his centre partner Sonny Bill in what was their first Test together for the All Blacks.
The two clicked, with Williams also offloading at will. The way they combined for Barrett's second-half try was outstanding with Williams offloading to Lienert-Brown who then found Julian Savea to put over Barrett. SBW grabbed a try for his efforts but the way Tim Nanai-Williams glided past him in the first half showed some defensive frailties.
When you consider the players who weren't picked in the squad, it shows the ridiculous depth of their talent. It was an all-court game from the men in black.
Ben Smith is right up to his brilliant best
Smith's season has been a stop-start affair with it interrupted by ankle injuries and concussion. But as he became the All Blacks' 68th captain, and the first back since Mils Muliaina in 2009 to skipper the Kiwis, he showcased his incredible skillset with a near faultless display from the back.
His rugby intelligence is a thing to behold and he will be delighted to have played 62 minutes.
Lions must get ascendancy in the pack
If the Lions are to have any hope of beating the All Blacks in the first Test on June 24, then they must try and disrupt the New Zealand set piece like they did to the Crusaders. The All Blacks scrum ticked over nicely at Eden Park and the lineout was effective but this must be an area for the Lions to target.
No team can match the All Blacks' ability off the back of the scrum; their strike moves were remarkable at Eden Park with their first phase play so effective. Similarly the second rows get through a huge amount of work after tapping down the lineouts to the scrum-half. They quickly find themselves in the backline waiting to be the next piece in the jigsaw.
The Lions would have seen a hungry All Blacks team. They still looked a little off their top game, with some uncharacteristic errors, but managed to dispatch Samoa with ease. This was one almighty warning to the Lions.