25 Nov 2018

All Blacks avenge themselves on unlucky Italy

5:24 pm on 25 November 2018

Opinion: A familiar looking Italian dismemberment.

New Zealand's Beauden Barrett scores a try

New Zealand's Beauden Barrett scores a try Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

There's bad luck and then there's the Italian rugby team. It's the second time in three seasons they've had to play the All Blacks the week after the world champions have come off a loss, and the result has been brutally one-sided both times.

Out of all the games on the tour, though, the 66-3 result was probably the one that lived up its all to predictions. Before it even began there was one rather timely change up to the most famous of All Black traditions.

TJ Perenara, who usually stalks around the third row and leads the haka, took up the prime position at the front of the wedge formation pointing straight at the Italian team lined up on their side of halfway. Read, meanwhile, hovered at the back and led the rendition of Ka Mate - the first time he has done so.

Of course, the first reaction was of a very blunt message to Read's critics that had made themselves known last week. The skipper's performance against Ireland was below his best, not helped by being dropped out of a lineout and being flat on his back while Jacob Stockdale scored the only try in Ireland's big win in Dublin.

This week saw a greasy track and a possibly frustrating opponent awaiting the All Blacks, but neither obstacle came anywhere near hindering them. In fact, the only thing the Italians did that was superior was a thunderous rendition of their national anthem.

Unfortunately for the home side, this wasn't a singing contest. Despite the crowd maintaining the volume for the first part of the game, and the All Blacks dropping the ball more often than they would have liked, the writing was on the wall for the home side as soon as TJ Perenara crossed for the opening try. While that looked to come off a pass that was a mile forward, the next one to Damian McKenzie was a straight product of the sort of midfield tip-on play the All Blacks have been trying to perfect all season.

What followed was a procession of tries as the All Blacks clicked into opposed training run mode, like they do against any team like Italy who doesn't have a hope of beating them.

The All Blacks changed up their haka for their Test against Italy with captain Kieran Read leading the way.

The All Blacks changed up their haka for their Test against Italy with captain Kieran Read leading the way. Photo: Photosport

Jordie Barrett ended up with four of them, and isn't even the first member of his family this season achieve that feat for the All Blacks. McKenzie got three and Nathan Harris came on and showed everyone which foot he favours by putting in a perfect grubber for Barrett's third.

For the 50,000 or so in the Stadio Olimpico, it was the consolation prize to watching their team get thumped - some skillful footy by the most entertaining side in the world.

In all fairness, all the big questions and stories had happened in the preceding four weeks of the tour: How the team would adapt to the Japanese environment they'll be in next year (fine), whether they could overcome a rampant start by England in the pouring rain in front of an extremely hostile Twickenham crowd (yes), and is they could win battle between them and the Irish in Dublin (no).

Lots to talk about over summer, and next season. Perhaps the only thing that this Italian test addressed, other than just how far away Italy are from matching the All Blacks, is how united the team is behind their under-fire skipper.

In the cavernous press conference room after the game (Stadio Olimpico is home to some of the biggest European football fixtures, and the press area can easily accommodate around 200 journalists), the first and last questions were about the haka, and both Steve Hansen and Read denied it was an answer to the critics.

That's probably ripe for some serious conjecture.