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Preview: Italy v New Zealand

16th November 2012 08:36

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Sergio Parisse Italy captain 2012

Sergio Parisse: Key player for Italy

After claiming a narrow win over Tonga last weekend, Italy face a much bigger task against the world champions in Rome on Saturday.

The Azzurri have failed to beat the All Blacks in 11 previous encounters and there's little reason to believe that anything different will happen this weekend.

They will be keen to improve on performance they delivered against Tonga but like most other countries they know they face a daunting task against the world's best team.

Italy coach Jacques Brunel has picked his strongest matchday squad, with stalwarts like scrum-half Edoardo Gori, fly-half Luciano Orquera, wing Mirco Bergamasco, lock Antonio Pavanello and veteran front-rower Martin Castrogiovanni all returning to the starting line-up.

When Brunel took over the reins from Nick Mallett after last year's World Cup he revealed that he would like for Italy to play a more entertaining brand of rugby as the Azzuri played a mostly forwards orientated game under Mallett.

However, don't be surprised if they attack the All Blacks - who are currently the world leaders in back-line play - with their pack. Their forward play is still of a high standard with their set-pieces, especially the scrum, an undoubted strength.

After their 51-22 victory over Scotland, the All Blacks have put the disappointment of missing out on the world record for consecutive victories behind them.

Instead, their focus has now turned to maintaining their amazing run of not suffering a defeat in a European tour match for the past decade.

By making 14 changes to his run-on side - left wing Julian Savea is the only survivor from the Scotland Test - coach Steve Hansen delivered on his promise to give every member of his 32-man squad playing time on the tour.

But despite ringing the changes, this can not be considered a weakened All Black side. There's plenty of experience with 534 caps in the starting XV and a further 219 on the bench.

And six of the run-on XV - Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Aaron Cruden, Kieran Read, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock - also started in their World Cup Final victory over France last year.

With Tests against Wales and England looming on the horizon Hansen should have a clearer indication what his first-choice XV will look like after this weekend's match.

Regular openside flanker and skipper Richie McCaw is being rested, which means Sam Cane gets a rare run-on appearance in the number seven jersey.

It will be interesting to see how he combines with number eight Kieran Read - who in his first Test as captain will have added responsibility on his shoulders - and blindside flanker Liam Messam.

McCaw, Read and Messam showed in the Rugby Championship that they are one of the best back-row combinations in the world. But Cane, although inexperienced, impressed as McCaw's back-up during the series against Ireland in June.

Another facet of play to keep an eye on is the front-row battle where the All Blacks will field the Blues trio of Mealamu, Woodcock and Charlie Faumuina. Their tussle in the scrums against Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Andrea Lo Cicero will be fascinating to watch.

Players to watch:

For Italy: Leicester Tigers tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni is one of the world's most powerful scrummagers and seldom takes a step backwards to any opponent at the set-piece. His reputation precedes him and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has paid him a big compliment by selecting first-choice loosehead Tony Woodcock to try and keep him in check.

For New Zealand: After Dan Carter's sublime performance in the win against Scotland Aaron Cruden will be under pressure to put in a polished display. He's done the business on countless occasions at Super Rugby level but is still a step behind DC at the highest level. This Test presents him with a perfect opportunity to close the gap.

Head-to-head: One can't look further than the battle between the two number eights, who are also captaining their respective sides, for some explosive action.Sergio Parisse is Italy's talisman who leads from the front while his All Blacks rival Kieran Read has been arguably the best player in his position in the world for the past two seasons. It will be interesting to see if his game is affected due to the leadership role, something which Parisse has mastered with aplomb in the past.

Previous results: 2009: New Zealand won 20-6 in Milan
2009:New Zealand won 27-6 in Christchurch
2007:New Zealand won 76-14 in Marsellie (RWC)
2004:New Zealand won 59-10 in Rome
2003:New Zealand won 70-7 in Melbourne (RWC)
2002:New Zealand won 64-10 in Hamilton
2000:New Zealand won 56-19 in Genoa
1999:New Zealand won 101-3 in Huddersfield (RWC)
1995:New Zealand won 70-6 in Bologna
1991:New Zealand won 31-21 in Leicester (RWC)
1987:New Zealand won 70-6 in Auckland (RWC)

Prediction: Italy will find the going tough against this All Blacks side who are hitting their straps at the right time. New Zealand to win by 25 points.

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovambattista Venditti, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Francesco Minto, 4 Antonio Pavanello, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Mauro Bergamasco, 21 Robert Barbieri, 22 Tobias Botes, 23 Luke McLean.

New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Dan Carter, 23 Cory Jane.

Date: Saturday, November 17
Venue: Stadio Olimpico
Kick-off 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Weather: Sunny weather is predicted for most of the day. 18°C max
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)

By David Skippers

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