Azzurri attempt to scale All Blacks 'Everest'
November 16, 2012
Can Italy captain Sergio Parisse inspire something special from his side on the occasion of his 90th Test appearance © Getty Images
Italy face the unenviable task of tackling an in-form New Zealand at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Saturday.
A capacity crowd of 70,000 are set to pack the usual home of Serie A football sides Roma and Lazio for the latest visit of the All Blacks in the hope the hosts can upset the odds and record their first ever victory over the world champions. The hosts warmed up for their high-profile clash with a narrow 28-23 victory over Tonga while New Zealand were in a different class as they despatched Scotland 51-22.
Blessed with unrivalled strength in depth, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has opted to rotate their options so there will be no flanker Richie McCaw while fly-half Dan Carter is held in reserve - but they will not be taking things easy having been pressed all the way by the Azzurri in their last meeting. However, they will still be strong favourites with Italy coach Jacques Brunel labelling them as the 'Everest' of world rugby.
Italy - Player to Watch: The Italian pack put up a mighty fight the last time the All Blacks were in town and you can expect them to do the same this time around with Martin Castrogiovanni sure to be at the heart of the proceedings.
Italy - Team News: Italy make eight changes to the side that edged past Tonga. Tommaso Iannone makes way for Giovambattista Venditti while Mirco Bergamasco goes in at left wing for Luke McLean, who drops to the bench. Luciano Orquera is named at fly-half in the place of Kris Burton with Edoardo Gori reclaiming the halfback position from Tobias Botes, who is also among the replacements. Simone Favaro returns to the starting XV in favour of Robert Barbieri at openside flanker while Francesco Minto takes Joshua Furno's place in the second row. Antonio Pavanello replaces Quintin Geldenhuys at second row while tight-head prop Martin Castrogiovanni starts in place of Lorenzo Cittadini.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Dan Carter produced a playmaking masterclass against Scotland and Aaron Cruden has to try and live up to those standards having been handed the All Blacks' No.10 shirt - is he up to the task?
New Zealand - Team News: The All Blacks' line-up features 14 changes to the side that swept the Scots aside with Read taking Victor Vito's spot at the back of the scrum, Sam Cane stepping in for McCaw and Liam Messam replacing the suspended Adam Thomson at blindside. In the front row, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Charlie Faumuina come in for Wyatt Crockett, Andrew Hore and Owen Franks respectively. Ali Williams is promoted from the bench to the second row and will partner Brodie Retallick with Luke Romano and Sam Whitelock making way. Scrum-half Aaron Smith and fly-half Aaron Cruden will look to pull the strings having been handed the playmaking duties instead of Piri Weepu and Dan Carter. The All Blacks' most experienced midfield pairing, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith return with Ben Smith (cheek) and Tamati Ellison (toe) both sitting out. Hosea Gear is named on the right wing instead of Cory Jane, Julian Savea gets a second start on the left, with Beauden Barrett at fullback.
Key Battle: This game will pit two of Test rugby's most consistent performers against each other in the form of rival No.8s - Italy's Sergio Parisse and New Zealand's Kieran Read. Two very accomplished players but which one will dictate proceedings in Rome?
Trivia: Centres Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith are looking for their 35th Test win as a partnership against Italy this weekend, thereby setting a new record for the most amount of wins as a Test centre partnership. Will Carling and Jeremy Guscott managed 34 wins in 44 Tests while Nonu and Smith could make it their 35th win in just 41 Tests together.
Stats: Sergio Parisse will win his 90th Test cap when he lines up for Italy against New Zealand this weekend. Parisse won his first cap in a 64-10 loss to the All Blacks a decade ago. He is joined by Martin Castrogiovanni, who also makes his 90th Test appearance.
"If New Zealand are the Everest of rugby, we must be ready to climb as far and as high as we can and make light of the cold and bad weather."
"I think the great leaders are the ones that don't work on it too hard, they just let it come"
Prediction: The All Blacks may have rung the changes for their latest tour outing but you will not notice as they power to another impressive victory.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.