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All Blacks talk up 'spectacle' after mixed showing
TOBY ROBSON AND LIAM NAPIER IN ROME
It felt as though the All Blacks were reading off a script after their sloppy 42-10 win over Italy.
Coach Steve Hansen and Kieran Read, in his first match as captain, went into promotional mode at the after-match press conference as they talked up the occasion as a great advertisement for rugby.
"Most importantly the 70,000-odd people who watched the game would have gone home with the idea that rugby is a great game," Hansen said.
"This was much better than last time we played [in Italy] and I'm very thankful for that.
"We are conscious of the fact we are here to make Italian rugby popular as well as come here to play a test match and I think today that has happened."
It was a direct reference to the bore-fest that occurred two years ago when the All Blacks ground out an ugly 20-6 win in Milan.
And to be fair to Hansen, today's match was an entertaining spectacle that left the crowd of 80,000 in high spirits after watching their side foot it with the world champions for 70 minutes.
Italy had plenty of bright moments including a try to second five-eighth Alberto Sgarbi and trailed just 13-7 at halftime and 23-10 with 13 minutes to play.
And they appeared pleased to see the All Blacks hit top gear in the final 10 minutes.
Football-mad Romans were kicking oval balls into the night outside the ground and children hitting tackle pads on a mini Astroturf field as their parents watched on.
However, from an All Blacks point of view it was a stretch to suggest it was a test to celebrate with any real conviction. There was a lack of critical analysis from Hansen and Read.
"I'd like to congratulate Italy on playing great game of rugby. I thought their attitude to the game, their physicality to the game and their commitment to the game was outstanding," Hansen said.
"I'd also like to congratulate our guys. This group of players haven't played for three weeks so although today was at times a bit rusty, I thought they showed a lot of composure, particularly the first half.
"I thought we met the challenge of the Italians and finished particularly strongly and played some tidy rugby."
Certainly Italy threw plenty at the visitors. They deserved Hansen's praise and he was right in saying the Azzurri have made big advances in their game since joining the Six Nations.
"They came to play, they didn't come to keep the score down. At halftime there was one try each.
"If Italy wants to become a great rugby nation they have to learn to play and today they did that. If they got the second half right we would have been in a lot of trouble."
However, it's debatable whether his own players earned such a positive assessment.
In private there will be concerns over the miss tackle count, handling errors, execution of the breakdown and tactical nous, particularly in the first half.
The calf injury to Keven Mealamu could also have further ramifications.
Skipper Read, who scored the All Blacks first try, was one of the best on show, running with his trademark power and was one of the few to not miss a tackle.
"I was actually very nervous heading into the game," he said.
"I got a few more texts messages than I'd normally get. But really pleased with how things went and it's great to cross the chalk, I haven't done that before this year. It was a nice way to get into the game.
"I was pleased how we stuck to our guns and came through in that second half and showed how we can play when we really worked hard together.
"I felt the test match was a great advertisement for the game. They put a lot of heat on us early on. We expected that and it shows how far they've come in the past few years. They are a quality side.
"I feel like sometimes test matches aren't won in the first 20 minutes. It takes 60-70-80 minutes to wear teams down and we really stuck at our game I think it showed in the last ten when we really lifted our game."
- © Fairfax NZ News