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All Blacks Disappoint In Stuttering Win

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
All Blacks Disappoint In Stuttering Win

By Daniel Gilhooly of NZPA

Christchurch, June 27 NZPA - The All Blacks stuttered and stalled on the way to an unconvincing 27-6 test rugby win over Italy that failed to ignite chilly Christchurch tonight.

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 it 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 first five-eighth, 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 goalkicking 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 leadup 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 home town 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.

Crockett was strong on the loosehead 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, who forced the loose ball.

McAlister landed a 45m 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 10min after the break before Ross crossed for a his try, the rangy lock backing up a blindside break by centre Isaia Toeava.

Ross set up the next try, too, with stunning 40m bust that led to Whitelock scoring after he accepted the last pass from second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu.

The test ends a long season for the Italian players while the All Blacks begin the Tri-Nations with a Bledisloe Cup test against Australia in Auckland on July 18.

Following the match the NZRU announced Italian number eight and captain Sergio Parisse had been cited for a possible eye gouge on All Blacks lock Isaac Ross in the 58th minute.

Parisse will appear before a judicial officer at the Canterbury RFU at 11am today.

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