All Blacks trample awful Italy
REPORT: The All Blacks were by no means at the top of their game but still managed to run in 10 tries to trample an awful Italy 68-10 in Rome on Saturday
Steve Hansen's decision to make 12 changes to the side that suffered a first defeat to Ireland in 111 years last week, aroused Italian hopes of a close encounter at the Stadio Olimpico.
But the hosts, now under the helm of Irishman Conor O'Shea, were playing their first international since a summer tour of the Americas, and it showed.
By the end of an embarrassingly one-sided game, the former Harlequins supremo was given plenty of insight into where improvements are needed ahead of another tough encounter, next week against South Africa.
Italy completely failed to move past second gear in an opening period that saw the All Blacks wow the crowd with their power, speed and ball-handling. Traditionally strong at the scrum, Italy collapsed at the first meeting of the packs inside four minutes to see Tongan-born Malakai Fekitoa touch down.
With the boot, flyhalf Aaron Cruden hit the first of five first half conversions for an early lead. It stunned the Olimpico into silence but despite Carlo Canna hitting an early penalty for the hosts, much worse was to come.
Patrick Tuipulotu scored his second All Blacks try when he punched over following a powerful, driving maul, with Cruden converting for an 18-point lead by the 21st minute.
Five minutes later, Israel Dagg powered from the right flank past a chasing Maxime Mbanda to touch over and Cruden's conversion took the score to 28-3.
Thus far, the home crowd's biggest cheer of the opening period went to Giulio Bisegni for a crushing, timely tackle on the half hour.
New Zealand only avoided scoring their fifth try after a late handling error by Wyatt Crockett after another, sweeping move into Italian territory.
With regular captain Kieran Read rested, Hansen had handed Sam Cane the captaincy for only the second time in a career that is expected to see the 24-year-old become the long-time replacement for retired Richie McCaw. On the day, Cane passed with flying colours.
Five minutes after the restart, hooker Codie Taylor jumped to collect on the right flank, drawing two Italians before he deftly pushed the ball to Dixon. He was running out of legs and offloaded to Steven Luatua for his second All Blacks try.
With 16 tackles missed, the statistics were piling up against Italy, whose midfield defence was terrible and attack virtually non-existent.
O'Shea had handed Treviso's Giorgio Bronzini his debut in an untested halfback partnership with Canna and he was soon replaced by Edoardo Gori, although the fresh pair of legs made little difference.
Hansen's decision to field exciting young wing Rieko Ioane, meanwhile, paid dividends. He replaced Dagg to make his test debut at the age of 19 and got his first points on the board with a late try.
With legs growing weary, both coaches made a series of late replacements that went decidedly in New Zealand's favour.
The Italians broke down at a maul, Crockett won possession to break through the and offloaded to Fekitoa for his second try of the game, with Cruden hitting the conversion for a 49-3 lead.
Three minutes later, Dixon touched over their eighth try after second half replacement Matt Todd had deftly thwarted a late challenge by Francesco Minto at the line. Cruden's effort with the boot came off the post.
The home fans were given some brief joy on 67 minutes when Tommaso Boni's superb interception saw the Italian run 50 metres to land the hosts' only try of the game. Tommaso Allan converted, but two further tries from Ioane and Waisake Naholo wrapped up a comprehensive win.
Man of the match: Sergio Parisse was the only Italian player who stood up to the All Blacks' pressure, although Edoardo Padovani and Angelo Esposito had some strong carries. The All Blacks were by no means flawless, however, the strength of the forwards to set things up for the backline deserves some credit. The centre pairing of Malakai Fekitoa and Anton Lienert-Brown carved holes in Italy's defence while Israel Dagg showed how dangerous he can be with ball in hand. In a bland encounter, it is always tricky to find a stand-out and even though he may not have scored any points, fullback Damian McKenzie gets our nod for some excellent carries and good tactical kicking.
Moment of the match: The All Blacks may have ran in 10 tries in the one-sided encounter, however, the Italian crowd cheered with delight as their team managed to score an unlikely try. Edoardo Gori intercepted a pass and offloaded to Tommaso Boni, who showed his speed to race under the uprights.
Villain of the match: No such thing
For New Zealand:
Tries: Fekitoa 2, Faumuina, Tuipulotu, Dagg, Crockett, Luatua, Dixon, Ioane, Naholo
Cons: Cruden 7, Sopoaga 2
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.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Alex Ruiz (France), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)