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All Blacks Second Stringers Could Hurt Us - Mallett

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
All Blacks Second Stringers Could Hurt Us - Mallett

By Mark Geenty of NZPA

Milan, Nov 13 NZPA - Italy rugby coach Nick Mallett claims the All Blacks have done his side few favours by picking a midweek lineup for tomorrow's (3am NZT) test at San Siro here.

Captain Rodney So'oialo will lead out an All Blacks side with a combined 214 test caps and debutants Mike Delany, Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith in the backline before a full house of just over 80,000.

It's their least experienced lineup in six years, since the Wales test in Hamilton in 2003 when Dan Carter made his test debut amid a 206-test lineup.

Former Springboks coach Mallett, trying to avert a 12-test losing streak in charge, admitted he'd prefer an All Blacks side at full strength and was lukewarm on any advantage the huge crowd would provide.

"In a funny way it's the worst possible selection for Italy, because if we have a very good performance there are people who will say 'it's a B team so you should play well against them', without understanding the depth of rugby in New Zealand and the quality of the Super 14," he said.

"The All Blacks could beat us convincingly and people will say 'you can't even beat the second team, you got smashed by the second team', so this is not a great team for us to play against. We'd love to play the very best team possible."

While Italy boast 539 tests in their run-on side, including 50-test forwards Sergio Parisse, Mauro Bergamasco, Martin Castrogiovanni and Salvatore Perugini, Mallett admitted an upset win was furthest from his mind.

Italy have never beaten the All Blacks in 11 attempts, with the 27-6 scoreline in Christchurch in January their third-best performance.

Mallett continued his regular theme of victory not being his main aim, rather a cohesive team performance.

"When we're facing up to Tri-Nations teams who Italy have never beaten in their history, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, it's an historical disadvantage going into games like this and we're coming off 12 losses in a row, it's hardly as though we're the form team.

"We'll be desperately disappointed if we're in a position to win it and we lose it, but you have to be a bit realistic when you're coaching Italy.

"Playing against sides like South Africa and New Zealand who are in the top division, and if you look at the Six Nations as the second division, we're at the bottom of the second division so it's not an easy task for us."

So'oialo took his players onto the hallowed turf for the first time for the captain's run today and felt the surroundings would spur his young team on.

"Being in a stadium like this, it's absolutely beautiful. You've got to take the opportunity and soak it all up, go out and give it your all."

Most interest will surround the debutants while hooker Corey Flynn, lock Anthony Boric, flankers Liam Messam and Tanerau Latimer, halfback Andy Ellis and second five-eighth Luke McAlister all have points to prove after injury or form layoffs.

So'oialo said Delany, Ellison and Smith had impressed him this week.

"I've been really proud of the way they've worked. It's a big step to what they're used to in Super 14... no doubt they'll be nervous but if they go out and just enjoy themselves I think they'll play really well."

And he said despite the novelty value of Milan, which included a team visit to Leonardo da Vinci's famed painting of The Last Supper yesterday, it would be business as usual for his edgy teammates at San Siro.

"The preparation and the mindset of the boys is still the same. We're here to do a job and the boys are really focused. It so happens we're in a really nice city and lot of historical things around. "


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