Preview: Italy v New Zealand
New Zealand have made sweeping changes to the team to face Italy, but it is not a charitable move.
New Zealand have made sweeping changes to the side that beat Scotland 51-22 last week, but what some may see as a charitable move has not been designed to give the hosts a fighting chance in Rome.
When it comes to Italy, still an emerging power, and the All Blacks, two-time World Cup champions and the most successful national team to have graced the sport, there really is no contest.
Italy have lost all 11 previous encounters beginning with a 70-6 reverse in the 1987 World Cup to a far tighter 20-6 test defeat at Milan's San Siro stadium in 2009.
Yet their record, and the fact the Azzurri fought their way to an edgy 28-23 win over minnows Tonga last week, has not dimmed the hopes of Italy coach Jacques Brunel.
"If New Zealand are the Everest of rugby, we must be ready to climb as far and as high as we can and make light of the cold and bad weather," Brunel said Friday.
"Otherwise we're better off staying in the comfort of Mont Blanc."
For the growing army of rugby fans in Italy, a much-improved performance from last week's display in windy and rainy Brescia would be a good start.
While a defiant Tonga side were giving Italy plenty of food for thought in Brescia, New Zealand were dismantling Scotland 51-22. Their win in Murrayfield, however, still left plenty of room for improvement, according to head coach Steve Hansen.
"The team last week put a stake in the ground, and while the performance was nowhere near perfect, there was some quality rugby played," he said.
"There is now an opportunity for this group to build on that."
Intent on making sure most of his touring party get involved at some stage or another, and ahead of arguably tougher tests against England and Wales, Hansen has rung the changes for Italy.
Kieran Read has notably been handed the captain's armband for the first time after World Cup-winning skipper Richie McCaw was rested, while star pivot Dan Carter is on the bench in favour of understudy Aaron Cruden.
Changes have been made elsewhere in the team, some enforced: Liam Messam has been called in at blindside flanker to replace Adam Thomson, banned for one match for stamping on the head of Scotland loose forward Alasdair Strokosch.
However that does not rhyme with lack of ambition in what Hansen believes will be a "torrid" encounter in the Eternal City.
"We are expecting another torrid test against the Italians in front of their passionate fans," he added.
"They are renowned for their forward play so they will certainly be up for the challenge and we will have to match that physicality.
"The team is excited about playing in front of the sold out crowd of 80-thousand and this will only add to their motivation."
After last week's performance, Italy captain and No.8 Sergio Parisse revealed his frustration and warned there can be no repeat in Rome.
"It's an important week for us, we'll regroup and train for next week in calm conditions but we can't play like that for 80 minutes against the All Blacks," he said.
Italy have been working on key areas, and Brunel made a total of eight changes from the side that started against Tonga, notably with Mirco Bergamasco returning to the wing from a small injury layoff.
In all probability, he will get his wish to see "in which direction our project needs to go" against the "strongest team in the world".
But the bespectacled Frenchman -- an assistant coach of France when Les Bleus beat the All Blacks 20-18 in Cardiff during the 2007 World Cup - may secretly be hoping for more.
"Every game is different, but to put New Zealand in trouble we have to be in the game," Brunel said.
"The last time I faced the All Blacks, as an assistant coach of France, we won. I hope to experience more of the same."
Players to watch:
For Italy: There are all the regulars Andrea Masi at fullback, Sergio Parisse as captain and No.8 and Martin Castrogiovanni. However, the key for Italy - if their forwards can manage parity in the possession stakes - will be how the halfback combination of Luciano Orquera (No.10) and Edoardo Gori (No.9) performs. This has been a problem area for years now and the Azzurri will hope that this duo could step up to the plate.
For New Zealand: In part New Zealand coach Steven Hansen is giving some players a run, but it is also a trial to see some of his back-up players in action. Beauden Barrett, at fullback, has a chance to cement a more regular place in the matchday 22. Aaron Cruden has been Dan Carter's understudy for some time, Sam Cane is seen as the future for New Zealand and Ali Williams has one last chance to prove his sell-by date is not up.
Head to head: Don't bother looking further than the scrums for the first real contest - the hardy trio of Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Andrea Lo Cicero (Italy) will ensure Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock (New Zealand) work for their wages this week. Italian locks Francesco Minto and Antonio Pavanello can expect the same stern examination for New Zealand rivals Brodie Retallick and Ali Williams.
2009: New Zealand won 20-6, Milan
2009: New Zealand won 27-6, Christchurch
2007: New Zealand won 76-14, Marseille (World Cup pool match)
2004: New Zealand won 59-10, Rome
2003 : New Zealand won 70-7, Melbourne (World Cup pool match)
2002: New Zealand won 64-10, Hamilton
2000: New Zealand won 56-19, Genoa
1999: New Zealand won 101-3, Huddersfield (World Cup pool match)
1995: New Zealand won 70-6, Bologna
1991: New Zealand win 31-21, Leicester (World Cup pool match)
Prediction: Even the most ardent Italian supporter will admit that his team have virtually no chance of winning, despite facing a decidedly second-string All Black side. It is simply a matter of the margin. We say New Zealand by 20 points or more ... 50 is not out of the question.
Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Francesco Minto, 4 Antonio Pavanello, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Mauro Bergamasco, 21 Robert Barbieri, 22 Tobias Botes, 23 Luke McLean.
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Ali Williams, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Dan Carter, 23 Cory Jane.
Date: Saturday, November 17
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15.00 (14.00 GMT, 02.00 Sunday, November 18 NZ time)
Expected weather: Clear in the evening, then overcast. Winds less than 5 km/h. High of 20°C, low of 15°C
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Peter Allan (Scotland)
TMO: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
AFP & rugby365.com