New Zealand v Italy, Christchurch, June 27
All Blacks set on big win in Christchurch
June 25, 2009
Luke McAlister will start at fly-half for the All Blacks © Getty Images
All Blacks coach Graham Henry has rung the changes as he prepares his side to face Italy in Christchurch on Saturday. Henry's latest selection will face an experienced Azzurri side in front of a small crowd at Christchurch's AMI Stadium, with anything other than a heavy victory set to worsen the current bad feeling surrounding the New Zealand setup.
Following their drawn series with France, disappointing behaviour by fans in Dunedin and a fabricated assault on France centre Mathieu Bastareaud in Wellington have left a sour feeling in one of rugby's true heartlands. With the Tri-Nations approaching fast the All Blacks need a boost - but the Azzurri will be in no mood to roll over after two defeats to the Wallabies in recent weeks.
Mils Muliaina leads an All Blacks side featuring two debutants in winger Lelia Masaga and prop Wyatt Crockett, while Luke McAlister and Brendon Leonard start at half-back. Leonard makes his first Test start since the World Cup quarter-final in 2007 after a wretched run of injuries, while McAlister starts at fly-half after making two appearances from the bench against the French. Isaia Toeava also steps in to the backline at outside centre, Conrad Smith again out with injury only a week after making his comeback.
Henry had originally called on the experience of Ali Williams in the second-row but he Blues lock was forced to withdraw due to a recurrence of an Achilles injury, Isaac Ross stepping in alongside Brad Thorn to win his third cap.
The back-row trio of Jerome Kaino, Tanerau Latimer and Kieran Read retain their places while Crockett is joined by John Afoa and Keven Mealamu.
Italy boss Nick Mallett has called on his most experienced campaigners for their final Test of the tour, with the Bergamasco brothers, prop Salvatore Perugini, lock Marco Bortolami and wing Kaine Robertson all starting in a side led as ever by the outstanding Sergio Parisse.
Former Australian rugby league star Craig Gower retains his place at fly-half and will win his third cap, joined by Tito Tebaldi at scrum-half. Gonzalo Garcia returns in the centre alongside Mirco Bergamasco, with Australian-born utility Luke McLean retaining his place at fullback.
Quintin Geldenhuys starts in the second-row alongside Bortolami, with Parisse joined in the back-row by Mauro Bergamasco and Alessandro Zanni.
"It was very interesting to see how the French forwards put the All Blacks under pressure, at the breakdown especially," Bortolami said. "In the second test, the All Blacks got it right. They had a lot of intensity.
"The key thing against the southern hemisphere teams is that you slow down their ball, otherwise they play too quick and it's very difficult to defend against them."
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina (capt), Lelia Masaga, Isaia Toeava, Ma'a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko; Luke McAlister, Brendon Leonard; Wyatt Crockett, Keven Mealamu, John Afoa, Brad Thorn, Isaac Ross, Jerome Kaino, Tanerau Latimer, Kieran Read
Replacements: Aled de Malmanche, Tony Woodcock, Owen Franks, Isaac Ross, George Whitelock, Piri Weepu, Cory Jane.
Italy: Luke McLean; Kaine Robertson, Gonzalo Canale, Gonzalo Garcia, Mirco Bergamasco; Craig Gower, Tito Tebaldi; Salvatore Perugini, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Ignacio Rouyet, Quintin Geldenhuys, Marco Bortolami, Alessandro Zanni, Mauro Bergamasco, Sergio Parisse (capt)
Replacements: Franco Sbaraglini, Fabio Staibano, Carlo Antonio Del Fava, Simone Favaro, Guilio Toniolatti, Kristopher Burton, Matteo Pratichetti