Italy v New Zealand - teams and predictions
TRIAL TIME: Coach Ian Foster said he had “full faith” in Sam Cane, after naming the flank as New Zealand captain for this weekend’s Test at Italy.
Richie Mo’unga has been restored at flyhalf after Beauden Barrett won his 100th cap in the All Blacks’ 54-16 thrashing of Wales in Cardiff last weekend.
Openside flank Cane missed the Wales game, having made his international return – following shoulder and chest operations – with 30 minutes off the bench in the recent rout of the United States in Washington.
Cane replaced Kieran Read as All Blacks skipper after the 2019 World Cup, but has only worn the armband six times since then.
Other options to lead Foster’s team were the injured Brodie Retallick, tour captain Sam Whitelock, who will be on the bench in Rome on Saturday, and the rested Ardie Savea.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in him [Cane] from a captaincy perspective,” Foster said.
“We wanted to give Sam Whitelock a little bit less time on the field, Brodie’s shoulder, whilst it’s really good we didn’t want to use him in this game and Ardie, he had a monstrous game last week and we really feel he needs a rest.
“The captaincy sits easily on Sam’s shoulder,” he added.
Foster added that while he and his fellow selectors have a plan in place for the major season-ending Tests against Ireland and France, the door is still open for players to force their way into those matches.
The All Black selectors are holding true on their indications that the match against the Six Nations minnows will feature numerous changes to the matchday side.
In total, only seven players who were involved in last week’s 54-16 thrashing of Wales in Cardiff have been included in this week’s team, which comprises a completely overhauled starting XV.
Of those who played at Principality Stadium, prop Tyrel Lomax, lock Tupou Vaa’i, halfback Brad Weber and wing Sevu Reece have all been promoted off the bench and into the starting line-up for New Zealand’s clash in Rome.
Just three of last week’s starters, meanwhile, have kept a spot in the matchday team, with lock Sam Whitelock, midfielder David Havili and fullback Jordie Barrett all demoted to the bench.
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The widespread rotation of Foster’s playing roster should come as little surprise given the strength and quality of the opposition the All Blacks are set to come up against.
Italy hasn’t won a Six Nations match since 2015 and have never come especially close to beating the All Blacks since the two teams first met at Eden Park in the opening match of the 1987 World Cup.
More pertinently for Foster and the All Blacks, though, this weekend’s match presents the last opportunity for players to state their case for inclusion in the final two Tests of the year against Ireland and France.
Both matches are set to be juggernaut encounters, on par with the two Tests against the Springboks during the Rugby Championship in terms of the magnitude of occasion and difficulty of opposition.
Since their controversial quarterfinal exit at the 2019 World Cup, the youthful French have improved to the point where many view them as the dark horse to clinch a first-ever World Cup crown in front of their home fans in two years’ time.
The opening match of that tournament pits them against New Zealand in Paris, meaning the clash between Les Bleus and the All Blacks at Stade de France in a fortnight acts as a dress rehearsal for the biggest test on European soil since the 2015 World Cup Final.
Ireland, meanwhile, hasn’t caught the attention of the rugby world in the way France has since the last World Cup, but they remain a formidable beast on their home track in Dublin.
The All Blacks know this all too well as the last time they played there in 2018, they suffered their first-ever defeat to Ireland in the Irish capital.
The trip before that, they were made to work extremely hard to beat Joe Schmidt’s side on the back of a shock loss to Ireland in Chicago five years ago, while Ryan Crotty’s injury-time try got them out of jail in their third-most recent visit to Dublin in 2013.
It was to be expected, then, that a raft of frontline All Blacks would sit out the Italian test in preparation for what is set to be a blockbuster pair of tests to close out what has been a largely successful 2021 campaign.
That isn’t to say that the teams to square off against Ireland and France are set in stone, though, as Foster hinted that a strong display against Italy from this week’s second-stringers could push them into contention for the final two tests.
“We went into this Northern Hemisphere tour with a three-game plan, and this is the third game, obviously, and after that, we know that we’ve got Ireland and France waiting,” Foster told reporters.
“As a group of selectors, we’ve got a pretty clear plan for Ireland, but I’d be pretty surprised if there weren’t a number of players that start on Saturday that isn’t starting in one of the next two tests.”
Italy host Argentina next weekend before welcoming Uruguay – after facing the All Blacks, against whom they have conceded 227 points in their last five meetings.
“They play such impressive rugby, they are the best in the world. What can this match bring us?” new Italian coach Kieran Crowley said.
Crowley will coach the Azzurri for the first time against the country of his birth.
“We can measure where we are and what we need to do to progress.
“It’s not ideal as a first match, but that’s how it is,” he added.
Players to watch
For Italy: Crowley recalled Matteo Minozzi to the starting line-up, after the Wasps wing missed this year’s Six Nations. Minozzi, who has scored 11 tries in 22 internationals, pulled out of the squad for the tournament earlier this year due to mental health worries about having to stay in a bubble. Flank Michele Lamaro leads the side for the first match with former skipper Luca Bigi on the bench. Treviso’s 23-year-old prop Ivan Nemer is set to make his Italy debut off the bench after playing just 21 senior club games. South African-born back row forward Braam Steyn joins Nemer among the replacements after last featuring for the Azzurri in December due to injury.
For New Zealand: Injury returnees Sam Cane and Dane Coles, flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, scrumhalf Brad Weber, flank Luke Jacobson and young midfielder Quinn Tupaea are among those involved against Italy who will be chasing starting roles against Ireland and France. There remains little to pick from between Mo’unga and new Test centurion Beauden Barrett in the race to become the first-choice All Blacks playmaker. Competition at hooker is similarly tight as Foster weighs the form of incumbent rake Codie Taylor and emerging youngster Samisoni Taukei’aho up against the experience and leadership of Coles, whose calf injury looks to have dragged him down the pecking order. Likewise, at openside flank, Dalton Papalii’s immense growth this year has made it difficult for Sam Cane, to lock down the No.7 jersey after a six-month injury spell.
Head to head
@rugby365com: New Zealand by 45 points
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Federico Mori, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Marco Zanon, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Renato Giammariolo, 7 Michele Lamaro (captain), 6 Sebastian Negri, 4 David Sisi, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Niccolo Cannone, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Braam Steyn, 22 Callum Braley, 23 Carlo Canna.
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Quinn Tupaea, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Josh Lord, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Dane Coles, 1 George Bower.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Samuel Whitelock, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 David Havili, 23 Jordie Barrett.
Date: Saturday, November 6
Venue: Stadium Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 14.00 (13.00 GMT; 02.00 NZ time Sunday, November 7)
Expected weather: Mostly cloudy with a couple of showers and a thunderstorm. High of 17°C and a low of 11°C
Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)
Source: Alex McLeod, RugbyPass, & AFP