All Blacks grind out victory in Milan
November 14, 2009
Italy's Sergio Parisse loses out to New Zealand's Cory Jane during their clash in Milan
© Getty Images
Luke McAlister's boot helped the All Blacks to an unconvincing 20-6 win over Italy after a brutal forward battle at a packed San Siro on Saturday.
McAlister's five penalties and Corey Flynn's first-half try were enough for the second-string All Blacks who were given plenty to think about by the hosts who were dominant up front but lacked a cutting edge in the backs. Roared on by a cacophony of noise in the 80,000-seat arena, Italy's scrum demolished the All Blacks', with Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni dominating his opposite Wyatt Crockett.
The All Blacks were safely home but had to endure a series of scrums on their goal-line in the dying minutes, with tight-head Neemia Tialata sin-binned in the 78th minute for repeated collapses. Referee Stuart Dickinson did not see fit to award a penalty try despite the repeated infringements by the visitors.
Italy also competed strongly at the breakdown, with experienced back-rowers Mauro Bergamasco and Sergio Parisse prominent, while All Blacks captain Rodney So'oialo toiled bravely for the tourists in a beaten pack.
The All Blacks coaches boldly made 12 changes to their side against an experienced Italian outfit, with debuts to Mike Delany, Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith. Dan Carter also had to sit out the big occasion, with his one-week suspension for a high-tackle still in force.
Still, the All Blacks were overwhelming favourites with bookmakers, with Italy not having beaten the tourists in 11 attempts including a 27-6 scoreline in their last meeting in Christchurch in June. The noise was deafening as the sides ran out but the crowd fell deathly silent for the All Blacks' haka, led by replacement Mils Muliaina.
The All Blacks started shakily against the fired-up hosts, with Smith dropping his first touch and the Italy scrum quickly gaining the upper hand with two huge shoves. McAlister and Italy's Craig Gower traded early penalties before the All Blacks got on a roll with a flurry of breakdown penalties from Australian referee Dickinson.
McAlister slotted one to make it 6-3 as the All Blacks were content to kick for position rather than chance their arms. One rare counter-attack sparked by Sitiveni Sivivatu saw Andy Ellis caught just short, then the All Blacks strung some phases together with McAlister and Ellison going close before Flynn scored in the left corner from an overlap. It was Flynn's second try in his sixth test, his first start since the 2003 World Cup.
Another McAlister penalty from an Italy ruck infringement gave the All Blacks a 14-3 halftime lead.
They extended the lead to 17-3 soon after the break when Italy centre Gonzalo Garcia was sin-binned by Dickinson for a dangerous tackle at a ruck. But the All Blacks couldn't make them pay with 14 men as the Italy pack continued to rumble on. After another big scrum, centre Gonzalo Canale went agonisingly close but was desperately held up by Ellis and Ellison.
Gower's second penalty narrowed it to 17-6 with a quarter remaining as coach Graham Henry rolled on his subs. Italy continued to crush the All Blacks up front and despite their best efforts the clock was against them as the boos for the All Blacks' collapses sounded around the famous arena.
"Gentlemen, if you want to see the World Cup going south yet again, you are going the right way about it," John Taylor looks at the state of European rugby
The Heineken Cup proved once again just why it is the best domestic rugby competition in the world at the weekend and Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures brings you a selection of the best snaps from around the rugby world with scantily clad ladies, O'Driscoll and snow all featuring