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Italy Saddled With History Of Showing Too Much Respect

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Italy Saddled With History Of Showing Too Much Respect

By Daniel Gilhooly of NZPA

Christchurch, June 23 NZPA - It was rugby nirvana, for 20 minutes at least.

The last time the All Blacks played Italy has been scrubbed from the memory banks of most New Zealand supporters -- the splendid attacking fare on a stifling afternoon in Marseille replaced by the grim outcome of the 2007 World Cup quarterfinal in Cardiff.

Yet it was just four weeks before their French execution that a fresh, confident New Zealand team made the rest of the rugby world sit up and take notice.

For their opening World Cup pool game, coach Graham Henry fielded his strongest lineup, a combination that remains the most experienced All Blacks side to take the field.

The result was a 76-14 thumping that wowed 66,000 people at Stade Velodrome.

It was an imperious display that quietened detractors who believed minimal rugby earlier in the year for the top players and a week's stopover in Corsica would backfire on Henry's men.

The most staggering element of the test was an opening quarter that bordered on perfection. The All Blacks led 38-0 after 20 minutes before the first discernable error, a slight fumble by prop Carl Hayman spotted by young English ref Wayne Barnes.

Two years on, Henry remains at the helm and Italy arrive in Christchurch, apparently fearing the worst ahead of Saturday's test.

Coach Nick Mallett is praying for rain to quell the speed and skill advantage he reckons the All Blacks have over his young players -- who are at the end of long European season and undergoing their toughest-ever tour.

Italy were competitive in 20-point losses to Australia in Canberra and Melbourne but history shows the Azzurri often save their worst for the All Blacks.

In nine unsuccessful meetings, Italy have avoided shipping more than 50 points just once.

That was a 1991 World Cup pool game at Leicester, where those present were spellbound by the sidestepping of long-haired Italian halfback Ivan Francescato and his team's gutsy second-half fight.

But that game was the exception.

New Zealand average nearly 10 tries a test against a side whose coaches often lament that their players show too much respect towards the men in black.

The mismatches been played out under the glare of the world's spotlight more often than can be healthy for Italian rugby, with five of the nine meetings coming in the group stage of World Cups.

First up was the memorable opening match of the inaugural 1987 tournament at Eden Park.

Italy have come some way under professionalism, although progress since being admitted to the Six Nations championship in 2000 has been gradual to say the best.

Mallett certainly isn't finding life as smooth as when he guided the Springboks, his Italians side having lost their last 10 tests and suffered a clean sweep in this year's Six Nations for the first time since 2005.


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