Worst of the year: All Blacks pile it on late in scrappy win

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 7 Nov 2021, 9:29AM
Sevu Reece runs in to score against Italy. (Photo / Getty)
Sevu Reece runs in to score against Italy. (Photo / Getty)

Worst of the year: All Blacks pile it on late in scrappy win

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 7 Nov 2021, 9:29AM

All Blacks 47 Italy 9 

Clunky, disjointed, scrappy. The All Blacks saved their worst performance of the season for Rome. 

Ian Foster made wholesale changes to hand many fringe prospects the chance to impress against Italy. Those hoping to further their cases instead conspired to serve up an error strewn match which will leave Foster much more certain about reinstating many of his starting preferences next week. 

If you recorded this match with the intention of watching it back over breakfast, be prepared for unpleasant Sunday morning viewing. 

Other than replacement halfback Finlay Christie and Dane Coles, many of the All Blacks hoping to pressure incumbents will be disappointed with the clear collective regression. 

This was a major comedown from last week's clinical dismantling of Wales in Cardiff. 

Ordinarily, the All Blacks achieving a world record try-scoring – the seven they scored pushing them to 96 for the year - and points (675) feat would be widely lauded but the frustrating nature of the display overshadowed those rare bright moments. 

Three years ago, in their last meeting against Italy in Rome, the All Blacks emerged 66-3 victors. While the final scoreline is somewhat similar the performances were poles apart. 

Italy, in their first test under New Zealand coach Kieran Crowley, defended with passion and accuracy to rattle the All Blacks. Like the Springboks, Italy also enjoyed success through their high ball kicking game and in slowing the All Blacks' breakdown ball. 

Such were their struggles Foster's men were held scoreless for the first 28 minutes and the opening 15 minutes of the second half. Paolo Garbisi's third penalty with 22 minutes remaining had the Italians close to 21-9, adding a dose of perspective to the result. 

Typifying their attacking issues, stunted by giving up 15 turnovers, the All Blacks were forced to revert to their pack to gain the upper hand where they scored four tries from rolling mauls. 

At times the All Blacks inexperienced was exposed through their impatience and they were slow to adapt or find solutions to Italy's rush defence. While the All Blacks kicked well clear as expected once the bench was injected, there will be plenty of lessons to absorb. 

The All Blacks dished up a dire first half in which they struggled to get any flow going. Perhaps disjointed due to the wholesale changes, or possibly complacent given Italy's hapless record, the All Blacks made constant errors. 

Ten first half turnovers continually botched chances to build phases and pressure. 

Braydon Ennor didn't deal with Italy's midfield rush well from centre, dropping two passes. Damian McKenzie, Quinn Tupaea and Tupou Vaa'i chimed in with unforced errors, too, and with the ball in behind them, the inexperienced All Blacks side were rattled. 

With few old heads in the starting side the All Blacks decided the best way to work themselves out of their frustrating funk was to force the issue. Pushing offloads when they weren't on, however, only made it worse. 

Discipline was another problem, the All Blacks conceding seven in the opening 20 minutes - 16 in the match - to hand the Italians ample possession. Fortunately for the All Blacks other than elusive left wing Monty Ioane, Italy did little to genuinely threaten. 

While the All Blacks battled to generate any continuity their set piece bailed them out of trouble. The lineout pinched five steals – two on their own line – and the scrum was completely dominant. 

The All Blacks lost Brad Weber after he took a head knock and failed an HIA nine minutes in which injected Finlay Christie into the contest early. 

The Blues halfback grabbed his chance with a busy display. 

From a defensive scrum the All Blacks demolished the Italian pack and Christie was on hand to break the deadlock with the belated opening try. 

Dane Coles, the most experienced member of the green All Blacks pack, stepped up to score two lineout maul tries – the second showing his vision and timing - and be named man of the match. Those strikes blew the half time margin out to 21-6 but that did not reflect the jittery nature of the All Blacks performance. 

Coles was held up chasing his hat trick but Asafo Aumua picked up where he left off to convert a third rolling maul try. 

English referee Karl Dickson contributed to an underwhelming spectacle by blowing a staggering 31 penalties. 

Richie Mo'unga, in his quest to seize back the No 10 jersey from Beauden Barrett, was symptomatic of a forgettable night with a rather subdued outing. 

Mo'unga was flawless off the tee, slotting all seven conversions, but without a front foot platform he failed to spark or vary the attack with options such as cross-field or kicks in behind the rush defence. 

The All Blacks will be pleased Sam Cane emerged unscalthed from his first 80-minute shift as captain in his ongoing return from injury but, otherwise, this was a humbling experience for many of the next generation. 

All Blacks: Finlay Christie, Dane Coles 2, Sevu Reece, Asafo Aumua, Hosking Sotutu, Sevu Reece tries, Richie Mo'unga con 7 

Italy: Paolo Garbisi pen 3