All Blacks eye greater hurdles
All Blacks eye greater hurdlesSHARE
A second string New Zealand warmed up for arguably bigger tests against Wales and England with a 42-10 victory over Italy on Saturday.
Having lost all 11 of their previous encounters against the reigning world champions the Azzurri came into this 12th match with a huge question mark over their form following a 28-23 win over Tonga last week.
To their credit, Italy stuck to coach Jacques Brunel's orders for an open, attacking display and went in for the half-time interval trailing only 13-7 after stand-in captain Kieran Read had touched down for the visitors and Alberto Sgarbi had replied for Italy.
Centre Conrad Smith, the elder statesman of the team and a World Cup winner last year, admitted Italy's first-half had taken them a little by surprise.
"We knew they were going to play well but I was impressed with the variety of their play, they were as good as any team we've played this year," he said.
For namesake Aaron Smith, winning only his 11th cap for the All Blacks at halfback, New Zealand were guilty of not respecting their opponents.
"I think in the first half we were a bit guilty of trying to score from anywhere," he said.
"We showed them a lack of respect and we had a good chat at half-time, saying 'let's respect them and earn the right to go wide'."
A full-strength Italy team, however, ultimately failed to threaten a visiting XV from which many big-name All Blacks were absent.
Flyhalf Dan Carter started on the bench and was an unused replacement as Aaron Cruden was given a full game and seized the day, converting four out of five times and adding three penalty goals.
Captain Richie McCaw, another World Cup winner, was another notable omission and failed to make the matchday squad altogether.
Read's first match as All Blacks skipper were settled by his early try, but it took until the second half for the visitors to get into their stride.
Only four minutes after the restart Cruden put another three points on the board from a penalty after Leonardo Ghiraldini was ruled to have interfered with play.
Four minutes later and despite the best intentions of Mirco Bergamsaco, Ma'a Nonu touched down for a stylish All Blacks try, with Cruden converting for 23-7.
Brunel made a series of subsitutions with Alberto De Marchi on for Ghiraldini and Davide Giazzon replacing Andrea Lo Cicero and they added much needed impetus – though, it only saw them add a drop goal through Orquera which took the scores to 23-10.
But the fatigue that had been sneaking up on Italy had taken hold. Brunel made more changes but they were unable to stop the constant waves of All Black attacks and finally with 13 minutes remaining they gave way.
Conrad Smith admitted the key to replacing their disjointed first-half display with a better strategy was patience.
"You've got to show patience, but ultimately after 60, 65 minutes we just kept playing at our pace and it opened things up and it probably inflated the scoreline beyond what it probably would have been," he said.
"But that's a credit too to the way we stuck at it."
Cory Jane, one of several second half replacements, came on fresh and exposed Italy's tiring defence with a late try – a "massive" play, according to Julian Savea.
"One play, he took out two defenders. His ability to do that… he's one of the best wingers/full backs in the world," said Savea.
Savea got in on the act himself scoring a late brace – one of which Cruden converted – to bolster New Zealand's tally.
Although a Wales side that is playing well below expectations is up next, Aaron Smith said they will take nothing for granted in Cardiff.
"We'll take the positives and negatives from our first two games and aim to get up for Wales," he added.
"Wales will be hurting now. But everyone wants to get up for the All Blacks. We know every game we play we've got to be on our game."