Samoa believe they are on the verge of dining at world rugby’s top table after nearly claiming the All Blacks’ scalp in Apia.
Disappointment mixed with delight in the home team’s dressing room after their brave 25-16 loss.
They were satisfied to have rattled the world champions, closing within six points in a helter-skelter final quarter.
But there was regret they couldn’t push on to achieve what would have been one of sport’s great upsets – in front of their rugby-starved home crowd.
Coach Stephen Betham believes the bone-crunching performance wasn’t their best work either, sending a warning to other major nations.
“We came here not just to be a stat. We came here to compete,” Betham said.
“If we stick together like we did today, we can compete with any of the top five teams in the world.
“Now it’s all about staying focused, staying composed and getting some consistency into what we do.”
Boosted by the availability of most of their premier Europe-based players, Samoa based their performance around physicality.
Flanker Alofoti Faosiliva became an instant national hero with his late try, which Betham admitted sent the coaching staff “through the roof”.
The forward pack as a whole stood toe-to-toe with their vastly experienced rivals, aside from scrum time.
The home backs struggled for penetration but their rush defence and big tackles made life miserable for the frustrated tourists.
It could be an effective formula for Samoa when they play World Cup pool games against South Africa, Scotland, Japan and the United States later this year.
The clash with Scotland in Newcastle on October 10 is already looming as a potential decider for second place behind the Springboks, if other results fall as expected.
Betham says there is plenty to focus on before the World Cup, starting with the Pacific Nations Cup tournament beginning next week in North America.
They will take additional confidence into the six-nation event.
“If there’s any team you need to gauge yourself against before heading to the World Cup, it’s the No.1 team in the world,” he said.
“That’s exactly what we did today by fronting up.