New Zealand v Italy, Christchurch, June 27
Below-par All Blacks see off Italy
Scrum.com & NZPA
June 27, 2009
Joe Rokocoko got the All Blacks' first try in Christchurch
© Getty Images
Mauro Bergamasco Mirco Bergamasco Wyatt Crockett Sir Graham Henry Lelia Masaga Mils Muliaina Sergio Parisse
The All Blacks stuttered and stalled on the way to an unconvincing 27-6 Test win over Italy that failed to ignite chilly Christchurch. Seeking a quality performance leading into the Tri-Nations, the New Zealanders didn't manage it against the world's 12th-ranked team, with errors pock-marking a stilted affair in front of a small crowd.
It was the lowest score the All Blacks have managed in 10 tests against the Italians and just the second time they have failed to reach 50 points. They never looked like breaking clear in a three-try performance that lacked authority against opponents who afforded them far more opportunities than during this month's drawn series against France.
The New Zealand forwards were solid enough against vastly more experienced opposites but the backline failed to gel, with problems emanating at fly-half, where Luke McAlister struggled. Making his first Test start for nearly two years, McAlister produced some of the game's better moments but was responsible for all manner of mistakes.
He landed five from five with his goal-kicking boot and set up the first try but his general kicking game was mixed while his handling and passing were sloppy. Italy spoke of trying to keep the score low in the lead up and they did precisely that with an effective kicking game that gave them a decent territorial edge throughout against an All Blacks side intent on running the ball back but who often came unstuck while doing so.
Up 13-3 at halftime, the hosts failed to learn from their shortcomings in the second spell, although they managed two good tries midway through to hometown forwards Isaac Ross and George Whitelock to make the result safe.
Five All Blacks made their test debuts, with winger Lelia Masaga and prop Wyatt Crockett doing little wrong in their starting roles while flanker Whitelock, prop Owen Franks and hooker Aled de Malmanche all came off the bench. The All Blacks' set piece work was the best area of their game against opponents who possess a quality scrum and lineout.
The Italians went in to the game looking to banish the memory of a heavy defeat to the All Blacks in the 2007 World Cup, and their coach Nick Mallett will be pleased with their organised and aggressive defence and their complete dominance of territory. Their lack of a cutting edge, apparent during the Six Nations, again proved to be a problem although scrum-half Tito Tebaldi, fly-half Craig Gower and centre Gonzalo Garcia all showed flashes to suggest a brighter future for Italian backs play.
Crockett was strong on the loose-head side of the scrum while Ross again reigned in the lineout and unleashed a couple of terrific surges with ball in hand. Italy only came close to scoring a try once, in the fourth minute from a cross kick, but Irish referee George Clancy ruled All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina had been taken out in the air by winger Mirco Bergamasco.
McAlister landed a 45 metre penalty soon afterwards but it wasn't until the 23rd minute that Joe Rokocoko crossed for the game's first try, the All Blacks winger's first at this level for nearly two years. He fielded a McAlister cross kick and did well to power through two defenders.McAlister's conversion and a second penalty stretched the lead to 13-0 before Luke McLean had Italy on the board with a penalty, his only success from three attempts in the first spell.
McLean doubled their score with another penalty 10 minutes after the break before Ross crossed for his try, the rangy lock backing up a blindside break by centre Isaia Toeava. Ross set up the next try, too, with stunning 40 metre burst that led to Whitelock scoring after he accepted the last pass from centre Ma'a Nonu.
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