All Blacks centre of attention in Rome

LIAM NAPIER IN ROME
Last updated 05:00 15/11/2012

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Even in this football-crazy country, the All Blacks are superstars.

From the moment they touched down in Italy this week crowds have flocked to get a glimpse of the best rugby team on the planet.

As soon as Ma'a Nonu stepped off the plane the dreadlocked second five-eighth was bombarded by photo and autograph requests.

The recipients almost certainly couldn't pronounce his name or read his writing, but they knew exactly who he was.

Within a day of arriving in Rome, locals had not only heard about the All Blacks but had tracked down their whereabouts.

This couldn't have been more contrasting than in Edinburgh where the press were asleep at the wheel until days before kickoff, the union's staff were roadblocks to promoting the game and locals largely hibernated from the cold.

With New Zealand's isolated surroundings and rugby-mad public it is understandable, even predictable, that if Richie McCaw sneezes people want to hear about it.

The men in black gather unprecedented attention wherever they go.

But, even in Italy, a country dominated by football and Formula 1, guards dressed in Armani suits and aviator sunglasses couldn't prevent at least 200 enthusiasts bowling through the Capitolina Rugby Club gates to invade the supposedly "closed" All Blacks training session yesterday.

Security initially kept the crowd roped off, 30 metres from where two separate All Blacks teams trained, but eventually they gave in to the pressure. Fans then came flooding in.

Out came the music and barbecues complete with meat patties, rolls and sausages. Suddenly there was a festival atmosphere. Local journalists were astounded by the fanfare.

They had never encountered such interest in the Italian national team.

To their credit the All Blacks were unperturbed by the unusual peripheral events.

In many respects it was beneficial for the tourists, giving them an insight into what they will encounter at Stadio Olimpico against the Azzurri on Sunday morning.

Those fans that crammed in to see the world champions were treated to a display of incredible skills.

While Steve Hansen's men didn't have any contact work in the impressive hour-long session, passes hit the mark, high balls were taken and only one ball was dropped.

Unsurprisingly, the scrum machine also took a hammering.

On this evidence, the crowds will be back to training and this week's new-look All Blacks team will pick up from where they left off against Scotland. 

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- Fairfax Media

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