James Mortimer 18.Nov.2012Getty Images
The score line might indicate an easy match, but it was anything but as the All Blacks had to work for every inch, only in front at halftime 13-7 thanks to a strong defensive pattern and good discipline that may have allowed Alberto Sgrabi to score a try, but otherwise prevented the hosts from registering any points when in the World Champions 22.
The last time the All Blacks were in Italy the Azzurri and then coach Nick Mallett went to no lengths to hide that they were going to take a ‘damage control’ mentality into the contest, and the 20-6 match in memory seems to be almost one ultra-long scrum, with the Italians forcing the contest into a set piece battle of the wills when they could.
This time around they had far more confidence with ball in hand, and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, in charge of the forward pack three years ago in Milan, said the Azzurri played their part in an open contest.
“This was much better than last time we played (here) and I'm very thankful for that,” he said.
“We are conscious of the fact we are here to make Italian rugby popular as well as come here to play a test match and I think today that has happened.”
Italy were able to go toe-to-toe with the All Blacks for long periods, until the final 13 minutes saw the visitors score three quick fire tries.
It was the sort of strike to the jugular that seems to be the difference between the World Champions and other sides at this stage.
Hansen felt that both teams did their bit, thanking Italy for their approach while acknowledging the efforts of an All Blacks team that had 14 changes – part of Hansen’s pre-tour objective of giving as many players a run as possible.
“I'd like to congratulate Italy on playing great game of rugby,” Hansen said.
“I thought their attitude to the game, their physicality to the game and their commitment to the game was outstanding.”
“I'd also like to congratulate our guys. This group of players haven't played for three weeks so although today was at times a bit rusty, I thought they showed a lot of composure, particularly in the first half.”
“They came to play. They didn't come to keep the score down. At halftime there was one try each. If Italy wants to become a great rugby nation they have to learn to play and today they did that. If they got the second half right we would have been in a lot of trouble.”
Match highlights - All Blacks v Italy 12617 views