Preview: Italy v New Zealand

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 07:27
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Thoughts of avenging a first defeat to Ireland in over a century will take a back seat, for 80 minutes at least, when the All Blacks face a new-look Italy on Saturday.

New Zealand's impressive streak of 18 consecutive Test victories was ended last week when they lost to Ireland for the first time in 111 years.

On Saturday, when former Harlequins coach Conor O'Shea leads out a largely youthful and untested Italy at the Stadio Olimpico, an All Black rout may well ensue.

But coach Steve Hansen believes New Zealand, whose 29-40 collapse to Ireland in Chicago was put down to "mental fatigue" and their "predictable" game, will have to step up their performance if they're to avoid another upset.

"It will be a tough game. We have got to improve our performance from last week," Hansen said.

Anyone thinking New Zealand didn't already have one eye on a highly-anticipated revenge match in Dublin on November 19 has been given food for thought.

Hansen has made 12 changes for the Italy game, suggesting a fully fired-up All Blacks will grace the Aviva Stadium.

Former Ireland flank Stephen Ferris says they will arrive "a bit like a wounded animal", adding: "The whole of Irish rugby was on a high over the weekend but the boys will be aware that the All Blacks can score from anywhere at any stage of the game."

Hansen defended his selection strategy in midweek but said a win and a return to their usual, world-beating standards would be more than welcome.

"We always had the plan to pick this side. This is the team we thought would be right for Italy and nothing that happened in Chicago has changed that.

"Whilst it is not the same people playing, it is the same jersey and the same expectation, so this group has got to go out and get back to the type of rugby we want to play and to the standard we want to play at," Hansen added.

New Zealand will notably see flank Sam Cane captain the side for the second time while hooker Liam Coltman and teenage wing Rieko Ioane will be hoping to make international debuts from the bench after being named in the matchday 23.

Italy captain Sergio Parisse, meanwhile, is set to overtake fellow veteran Martin Castrogiovanni, who is not selected, to earn a record 120th cap.

O'Shea, who has injected a fair bit of renewed belief, if not yet results, into Italy's squad, is mostly gambling on a youthful line-up sprinkled with a few old heads. Notably, the Irishman has handed Treviso's Giorgio Bronzini an international debut at scrumhalf in an untested halfback partnership with Carlo Canna, who has only 12 caps to his name.

"A few months ago I was playing the Eccellenza league, now I'm about to line up against the world champions wearing the Italy jersey. It's like a dream," said Bronzini.

O'Shea's back three of fullback Edoardo Padovani and wings Giulio Bisegni and Angelo Esposito have just 12 international appearances between them.

The second row combination of South African-born Andries van Schalkyk and Marco Fuser is untried and flank Maxime Mbanda will be making his first appearance on Italian soil after winning his first two caps against the USA and Canada.

More familiar heads include Australian-born Luke McLean, who, along with veteran hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, wins his 82nd cap, at inside centre.

"O'Shea is building a great squad here, it's a mix of really experienced guys and younger athletes with interesting potential. Conor is ambitious, and so we have to be even more so. There's nothing better than playing at home, we're fired up ready to give it everything," said Ghiraldini.

Whether that is enough for an upset remains to be seen as the All Blacks have never lost to the Italians.

Players to watch:

For Italy: Sergio Parisse will become Italy's most-capped player when he claims cap number 120 while Luke McLean would also want to showcase his experience on his return to the international scene. It will be a big occassion for scrumhalf Giorgio Bronzini who makes his international bow against the best team in the world.

For New Zealand: With so many changes, it is easy to focus on those who have a regular spot in the team. However, all eyes will be on the likes of fullback Damian McKenzie to see if he can reproduce the form that saw him win a call up. Scott Barrett would have enjoyed his time on the park in Chicago and will certainly want to continue making a push to solidify his spot. Liam Coltman must be raring to and test himself against a side who are usually good scrummagers while Rieko Ioane could bring some spark later on in the encounter.

Head to head: What a battle we have between the No.8s. We have one of the most experienced players - and arguably one of the best in the business - going up against one of many bright stars on New Zealand's near-endless conveyor belt of high quality, powerful loose forwards. The battle between the halfback pairings is going to be key in getting their backlines to fire. Speaking of back lines, Italy's trio are going to have their hands full if McKenzie, Israel Dagg and Waisake Naholo get their engines firing.

Recent results:

2012: New Zealand won 42-10, Rome
2009: New Zealand won 20-6, Milan
2009: New Zealand won 27-6, Christchurch
2007: New Zealand won 76-14, Marseille (WC pool match)
2004: New Zealand won 59-10, Rome
2003: New Zealand won 70-7, Melbourne (WC pool match)
2002: New Zealand won 64-10, Hamilton
2000: New Zealand won 56-19, Genoa
1999: New Zealand won 101-3, Huddersfield (WC pool match)
1995: New Zealand won 70-6, Bologna
1991: New Zealand won 31-21, Leicester (WC pool match)
1987: New Zealand won 70-6, Auckland (WC pool match)

Prediction: Italy will be entering a new era under Irishman Conor O'Shea and from the team he has picked, we can expect Italy's youthful team with splatters of experience to have a massive mountain to climb. New Zealand are wounded after suffering a shock demolition at the hands of Ireland which ended their 18-match winning streak. It is for that reason that the All Blacks will claim a more than comfortable victory by at least 35 points.

Teams:

Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Giorgio Bronzini, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 5 Andries van Schalkyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Ornel Gega, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 George Biagi, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Tommaso Boni.

New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.      
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Rieko Ioane.

Date: Saturday, November 12
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15.00 (14.00 GMT; 03.00 NZDT Sunday, November 13)
Expected weather: Clear, sunny skies with negligible wind. High of 14.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Alex Ruiz (France), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com