Coaches square off after Milan showdown
November 15, 2009
New Zealand and Italy pack down in front of a full house at the San Siro in Milan © Getty Images
New Zealand coach Graham Henry and his Italian counterpart Nick Mallett took aim at the officials following their historic clash at the San Siro in Milan.
The All Blacks claimed a 20-6 victory in a frustrating match that failed to live up to the occasion with both sides pointing the finger at Australian referee Stuart Dickinson.
Henry demanded more clarity in the "grey" scrum laws after Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni's demolition job on Wyatt Crockett, while Italy's Nick Mallett felt his side deserved a late penalty try and questioned the tourists' tactics to defuse their rolling mauls.
It was the All Blacks' sixth consecutive northern hemisphere Test where they hadn't conceded a try, but that was one of few bright spots of a stop-start contest amid a cacophony of noise - from the capacity 80,000 crowd and Dickinson's whistle.
The alarming dominance of the Italian scrum prompted Henry to claim the scrum rulings were getting worse, and demanded clarity from the International Rugby Board. The feeling in the All Blacks camp was that Castrogiovanni was boring in, unpunished, and captain Rodney So'oialo said Dickinson had a "totally different view" to his protests.
"You get guys like Wyatt Crockett coming off the field totally frustrated," said Henry. "He spends hours, weeks, years developing as a quality front-row forward, and coming off frustrated because it's not the game he's used to playing in the front row," Henry said. "I'm talking about everything; binding, direction, everything. It's spoiling the game as a spectacle. The last five minutes was a farce."
Italy camped on the All Blacks' line near the end as Dickinson re-set endless scrums, awarded penalties and sin-binned prop Neemia Tialata. With the crowd at fever pitch and whistling for a penalty try, it was a flat ending to a kick-and-whistle-dominated test and had Mallett seeing red.
"The All Blacks are a very good team but we had them today, we were better than them in the set scrums," Mallett said. "We had an opportunity to finish with a try and I think we would have scored a pushover try had there not been penalties. To not get seven points at the end was disappointing because I thought my forwards deserved it."
Mallett also took umbrage at Henry's comments. "There were a couple of occasions in the driving mauls where, if we're going to talk about grey areas, there were lots of grey areas there."
The All Blacks never looked in danger of their first defeat in 12 tests against Italy, but with 12 changes from the win over Wales and debutants Mike Delany, Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith, they struggled for any flow. With the pack under pressure, scrum-half Andy Ellis struggled to provide good service while Delany showed nice touches but couldn't impose himself on the test as Stephen Donald replaced him with 15 minutes left.
Italy's forwards were outstanding, with captain Sergio Parisse leading the way, but they hardly threatened the All Blacks line in the backs.
Henry rated Italy's pack as good as any in the world, and San Siro as impressive as any arena he'd seen, but gave his side only a lukewarm review. "The game generally didn't live up to the billing or the expectation. There was quite a bit of frustration in the game, the scrum in particular. We didn't play as well as we'd hoped, we dropped a bit of ball and had a few forward passes called."
All Blacks winger Ben Smith was delighted to bounce back from a horror first touch to emerge from his first international appearance with credit.
"You've always got to believe. I hardly ever make those mistakes so I just had to back my instincts and get on from there," he said. "I thought I bounced back from the dropped ball, got stuck into everything and that was my goal, to go hard with everything I did."
Smith was one of three All Blacks debutants, with first five-eighth Mike Delany and centre Tamati Ellison both emerging frustrated from their first tastes of Test rugby.
"Once I was out there it was just another game and I just wanted to get into it and get the boys forward, but our breakdown was pretty slow and it was hard to get any momentum going," said Delany.
Ellison had few touches in a kick-dominated test, and had mixed feelings afterwards. "It was an amazing day, great to finally become an All Black and run onto the pitch. It wasn't a fairytale but it's rugby and I enjoyed the experience. There weren't many chances. I was trying to reload on defence and pull guys out of rucks, I think I chased kicks all day, made one tackle and dropped the ball..."
Assistant coach Hansen admitted it was tough for his three backline newcomers. "There was no flow and obviously a lot of whistle which made it difficult to get anything going."
The trio will likely get one more chance to show their wares in the starting line-up, in the tour-ending Barbarians match at Twickenham on December 5. The team now fly to London where England await at Twickenham next weekend after scraping past Argentina, with most of the All Blacks' frontliners likely to return.
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