Preview: Italy v New Zealand
DAVID VERSUS GOLIATH: Italy coach Conor O’Shea concedes his side are braced for a ‘David against Goliath’ challenge against world champions New Zealand in their final November Test on Saturday at the Stadio Olimpico.
The All Blacks arrive in Rome having lost 9-16 to Ireland in Dublin last weekend, a further wake-up call for the world’s top team after a defeat by the Springboks back in September.
But even if New Zealand‘s aura of invincibility has started to wane less than a year out from the World Cup, O’Shea is expecting another rough ride from a side the Italians have never beaten in 14 previous meetings.
The last clash between the two teams was in 2016 in Rome, with the All Blacks winning 68-10.
“It will be important not to think too much about their potential, above all a team of this level,” said Irishman O’Shea.
“They are like Brazil in football, it’s a game that everyone wants to play. We want to end the November Tests with a good performance, playing our best rugby.”
O’Shea made just one enforced change to the side that lost 7-26 to Australia in Padua last weekend. Earlier in the month they beat Georgia 28-17 but lost 7-54 to Six Nations champions Ireland in Chicago.
Benetton Treviso wing Luca Sperandio comes in for Mattia Bellini who scored Italy’s only try against the Wallabies before going off with a shoulder injury.
Fullback Hayward, 31, was New Zealand’s promising player of the year in his debut season with Taranaki in 2008 but has been playing in Italy for Treviso since 2014, making his Test debut last year.
Lock Budd, 32, joined Treviso in 2012 and has played 14 Tests since qualifying for Italy in 2017.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has rung the changes after last week’s loss to Ireland.
Instead, Mo’unga stays on the bench as Hansen sticks with his strategy of using Barrett and McKenzie as dual playmakers.
The combination has failed to fire so far, with the world champions scraping to a 16-15 win over England before losing 9-16 to Ireland last week.
“We’ve got an excited group of players who are keen to make the most of their opportunity and represent the jersey, themselves and their country with a strong performance on Saturday,” said Hansen.
“The group is aware that this is our last week together and they’re determined to really prepare well, play well and enjoy every moment of the week.
“The Italians will bring plenty of line speed, with a wide defensive spread, and again allows us to experience playing this type of team. They’re big men who play with a lot of passion and pride.
“We saw in their match against Australia last week just how difficult they can be to play if you allow them to dictate the terms of the game.
“We look forward to again playing at Stadio Olimpico in front of the Italian people and delivering a performance we can all be proud of.”
Player to watch:
For Italy: With the loss of Mattia Bellini, Benetton wing Luca Sperandio has an opportunity to prove himself against the No.1 team in the World. Tommaso Allan is also one to keep an eye on, the scrumhalf showed great prowess against Australia – gaining some points on his Rugbypass Index scores. While in the pack South African-born Abraham Braam Steyn and Zimbabwean-born flank Sebastian Negri will be a handful at the breakdown.
For New Zealand: Despite their recent dip, flyhalf Beauden Barrett and fullback Damian McKenzie will be the key to unlock the All Blacks’ attack. The duo might struggle in the wet conditions but Richie Mo’unga will provide calm and steadiness when he takes the field from the bench. Ngani Laumape‘s strong runs will hand the visitors a advantage in the midfield. In the pack, the Italians have to keep a close eye on Dane Coles. The speedy hooker is not only a very powerful ball carrier but his offload and runs cause havoc to any defence.
Head to head: It will be interesting to see how Italy’s midfield of Michele Campagnaro and Tommaso Castello fare against Anton Lienert-Brown and Ngani Laumape. In front, All Blacks captain Kieran Read will have to be in tip-top shape as he faces Italy’s Braam Steyn. While the line-outs will also be close contest as Dean Budd and Alessandro Zanni pose a challenge for Scott Barrett and Patrick Tuipulotu.
2016: New Zealand won 68-10, Rome
2012: New Zealand won 42-10, Rome
2009: New Zealand won 20-6, Milan
2009: New Zealand won 27-6, Christchurch
2007: New Zealand won 76-14, Marseille (RWC)
2004: New Zealand won 59-10, Rome
2003: New Zealand won 70-7, Melbourne (RWC)
2002: New Zealand won 64-10, Hamilton
Prediction: The Italians come into this clash with extremely high hopes. They produced a noteworthy performance against Australia last weekend, however its difficult to foresee how David can overcome Goliath in this case. The All Blacks are hurting from their below-par November Test series and will want to end the season not only with a win but with a performance that restores their superior aura. Furthermore All Blacks have a 98 percent likelihood of winning according to The RugbyPass Index. Thus, New Zealand will take this one with more than 25 points.
Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Braam Steyn, 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (captain), 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traoré, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Johan Meyer, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Luca Morisi, 23 Edoardo Padovani
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Jordie Barrett, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ofa Tuungafasi.
Replacemnets: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Rieko Ioane.
Date: Saturday, November 24
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15.00 (14.00 GMT; 03.00 NZ time Sunday, November 25)
Expected Weather: Not extremely cold conditions but showers are expected – a high of 18°C and a low of 12°C
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Source: AFP & @rugby365com