Mallett is realistic about chances of toppling All Blacks
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