Three international encounters showcased New Zealand’s best young talent in the under-18 and under-16 age categories at Pulman Park in Papakura on Sunday, many of the players contracted to the Vodafone Warriors.
First up the New Zealand Residents 16s faced Toa Samoa 16s, a tight contest proving Samoa was more than prepared to take on its big brother counterpart.
New Zealand looked to be in the game after a decent first half with tries to Cassius Cowley and captain Jaedon Wellington helping to put the team 14-10 ahead going into the second half.
However, the Samoans recovered impressively to win the contest 26-20.
The French under-19 team, which faced the New Zealand 18s earlier in the week, arrived ready to finish its tour of Aotearoa on a high taking on Auckland.
While the first half was a grind – with France kicking a penalty on the siren to lead 14-12 at the break – the second stanza saw 38 combined points scored.
A big second half saw Auckland get past France 38-26 in their one-off representative clash.
Fresh off the back of their win against France on Thursday, the NZ18s were keen to finish their campaign undefeated. However, if the Toa Samoa 16s’ performance was anything to go by, this wasn’t going to be an easy task.
Both teams came out firing but it was New Zealand which capitalised on early possession to get first points on the board.
That momentum, however, was short-lived as Samoa fired straight back with an overlap to the right as centre Sam Taunga went over for his team’s first points. Neither side was able to convert making the score four a piece after 10 minutes.
A tackle in the air from New Zealand allowed Samoa to take the lead with a penalty followed soon after a try to Vaiala Tamati off a clever cross-field kick extending its lead to 12-4.
The Kiwis answered back as Semisi Sikei dived on a kick in-goal to make it 12-8.
Poor discipline from New Zealand gifted Samoa further possession and field position as hooker Jeremiah Schuster dived through the defensive line making it 18-8 at the break.
The Kiwis had no choice but to come out firing if they were to remain in the game, and that they did.
They opened the second half with a try to Vaka Sikahele in the corner to reduce the margin to 18-12.
Kina Kepu then steam-rolled the Samoan defence to score a great solo try making it 18-16 with the kick to come. Sione Moala was having a less than ideal day with the boot, though, and he missed the conversion to leave his side two behind.
The New Zealand forward pack was proving hard to handle, breaking the Samoan defensive line two more times but handling errors by cost them back-to-back try opportunities.
Finally the Kiwis caught Samoa napping and capitalised on their possession advantage as Jordan Coleman scored between the posts making it 22-18.
While Samoa gained momentum off poor discipline from the Kiwis, a try went begging as Samoa’s chasers were caught offside.
New Zealand went straight back on the attack as William Fakatoumafi skilfully caught a high ball and offloaded to winger Sikei who extended the Kiwis’ lead to 26-18.
Fakatoumafi then defused Samoa’s last play option catching yet another high ball to run 100m untouched to add an extra four for New Zealand. Moala was unable to convert keeping the score 30-18 before Feao Tongia crossed for the Kiwis’ eighth, and final try for a 36-18 victory.