Mal­lett is re­al­is­tic about chances of top­pling All Blacks

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

MI­LAN: Italy coach Nick Mal­lett ad­mit­ted yes­ter­day that his team would be play­ing for pride rather than victory when they host New Zealand at the San Siro to­day.

The Ital­ians come into the match off a 12-game los­ing streak and hav­ing never beaten the fear­some All Blacks in 11 pre­vi­ous en­coun­ters, in which they once con­ceded more than 100 points, an­other four times gave up more than 70 points and only three times kept the score un­der 50.

One of those was in Christchurch in June when the Az­zurri went down 27-6 and Mal­lett said he would be happy with a re­peat of that.

“It’s im­por­tant that Ital­ian rugby and Ital­ian rugby play­ers must re­main with their feet on the ground and hum­ble when we start play­ing the best teams in the world and we go in there with the ex­pec­ta­tion to be as com­pet­i­tive as we can,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s re­al­is­tic to ex­pect us to go in there with the ex­pec­ta­tion they can win against South Africa and New Zealand, the top two teams in the world.

“But cer­tainly there’s a much more con­fi­dent feel about our team af­ter the June tour and what we want to do is build on those games and hope­fully within our squad im­prove and de­velop more play­ers who can play at in­ter­na­tional level and be more com­pet­i­tive in ev­ery sin­gle game we play, par­tic­u­larly as we start mov­ing to­wards the Six Na­tions.”

New Zealand have been crit­i­cised in some quar­ters for se­lect­ing a largely re­serve team for this match, mak­ing 12 changes from the unit that nar­rowly beat Wales 19-12 in Cardiff last Satur­day.

But Mal­lett says that is ac­tu­ally the worst case sce­nario for him and his team.

“In a funny way it’s the worst pos­si­ble se­lec­tion for Italy be­cause if we have a very good per­for­mance, there are peo­ple here who will say: well it’s the B team, so you should play well against them, without un­der­stand­ing the na­ture of rugby in New Zealand and the qual­ity of the Su­per 14.

“Peo­ple will say be­cause it’s not the first team, your per­for­mance is av­er­age. What could hap­pen is they could play very well and beat us con­vinc­ingly and peo­ple will say: look you couldn’t even beat the B team.

“So this is not a great team for us to play against, we would like to play against the best team pos­si­ble but this is the team the All Blacks staff wants to put on the field against us and we can only do our very best against them.”

An­other prob­lem Italy face is the fact that against a team such as the All Blacks, who run the ball through the phases so well, they are likely to spend a lot of time de­fend­ing.

That can be very tir­ing and of­ten in the past Italy have wilted to­wards the end of games, but cap­tain Ser­gio Parisse in­sists that won’t hap­pen this time.

“Of course we’ll spend a large part of the game without the ball so this week we’ve worked a lot on de­fence,” he said. “Un­for­tu­nately many times we’ve been winning by a cou­ple of points or very close and at the end we’ve made mis­takes and con­ceded tries.

“Of course the phys­i­cal as­pect is very im­por­tant, to be able to play 80 min­utes at 100 per­cent right to the end. We’ve done a lot of work, par­tic­u­larly with the play­ers play­ing in Italy and phys­i­cal tests went very well and I’m con­fi­dent in the play­ers that in the cru­cial mo­ments of the game they won’t miss tack­les or make a mis­take in de­fence and that we won’t just play 60 min­utes but 80 min­utes at 100 per­cent with max­i­mum con­cen­tra­tion.” – Sa­paAFP

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