All Blacks manhandle Italy, look ahead to rematch
STAND-IN captain Sam Cane hailed a youth-filled New Zealand after a 68-10 thrashing of Italy left the All Blacks poised to avenge their recent, stunning defeat to Ireland in Dublin next week.
Cane, standing in for Kieran Read, who was rested, is emerging as the long-term successor to All Blacks legend Richie McCaw following his retirement one year ago.
If he had any pre-match nerves at a packed Stadio Olimpico, which saw New Zealand beat Italy 42-10 on their last visit four years ago when Cane sat on the bench, they were quickly put to bed.
Although Steve Hansen opted to make 12 changes following their first loss to Ireland in 111 years last week in Chicago, a second-string side proved a class well above the hapless Italians.
Malaki Fekitoa bagged the first of his brace of tries as early as the fourth minute, with man-of-the-match Aaron Cruden making the first of seven conversions to leave Conor O’Shea’s hosts on the back foot early on.
Italy were never given a chance to settle, and although Tommaso Boni wowed the crowd with a well-taken try following his interception late on the hosts were well and truly outplayed, teenager Rieko Ioane defiantly capping his test debut with a battling, maiden try in the 73rd minute.
“We needed to come back after last week’s defeat, and we did that,” said Cane, captaining New Zealand for the second time having done so against Namibia in the 2015 World Cup.
“The way we gelled and kept the scoreboard ticking over throughout the 80 minutes was really pleasing.
“It was great for a number of guys to pull on the jersey for the first time in a wee while, and for a couple of guys to make their debut was special for them too.”
As for emulating McCaw, who led New Zealand to a record 97 wins as captain, Cane added, “In terms of comparison with Richie, I’ve had to deal with that for the first four years as an All Black, so I’ve learned there’s no point trying to be him.
“I’m just trying to be myself, play my style and be Sam Cane.”
Hansen brushed off questions about his possible selection strategy next week, but admitted the latest generation had given the team’s established stars a run for their money.
“They played particularly well, and I’m happy with that,” said Hansen.
“But the big thing for us is that some guys who haven’t played a lot of rugby for the All Blacks got the opportunity to play 80 minutes, and some guys played their first game.
“It bodes well for next week. We’ve got a lot of guys in form for selection. But it bodes even better for the future … next year and beyond.”
One of those players was Cruden. Having replaced Waisake Naholo at wing last week, Hansen was pleased with the Manawatu fly-half ’s first start since returning to the national fray for the first time since appearing against England at Twickenham in 2014.
“He hasn’t played a lot of rugby, so we wanted him firstly to get more match time,” added Hansen.
“Secondly, to do his core roles really well: his passing, kicking, running and organising, and get back into the flow of rugby again. As the game went on he got better and better.”
Italy coach Conor O’Shea now has the task of lifting morale ahead of hosting South Africa for their clash in Florence.
“We don’t like losing, but sometimes you play against a great side and you have to say when you’re beaten by a better team,” said the Irishman.
“I told the lads that if they feel they haven’t put their body on their line for their country, then they couldn’t come to work tomorrow.
“The easy thing is to be cynical, but I tell the players ‘do not hang your head, do not feel sorry for yourself’.”
New Zealand’s Matt Todd (left) vies with Italy’s Edoardo Gori during the one-off Test rugby union match between Italy and New Zealand at Olympic Stadium in Rome on November 12.