ABs to set heavy artillery on Italian backline

TOBY ROBSON IN ROME
Last updated 13:25 16/11/2012
Hosea Gear
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HEFTY CHALLENGE: The All Blacks' big three of Hosea Gear, Ma'a Nonu and Julian Savea hold a significant size advantage over their Italian opposites.

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Spare a thought for the Italian backs this week as they face one of the more mountainous backlines in world rugby.

All Black coach Steve Hansen gave his backline a sizeable boost, literally, in naming Hosea Gear and Julian Savea on opposite wings and recalling centre Ma'a Nonu.

Together they tip the scales at a combined 319kg.

Nonu is the biggest at 108kg, one more than Savea, while Gear is a muscular 104kg.

These are rugby's version of heavy artillery and first five eight Aaron Cruden, at 85kg, is the man who will direct them toward their Italian targets at Stadio Olympico on Sunday (NZT).

Cruden doesn't hide from the fact that the All Black backs physical stature is an advantage they will look to exploit.

"I think so, when you have a few backs who are the size of forwards who can run and sidestep to the capabilities of the guys like Ma'a and Julian," he said yesterday. "It's a pretty good thing as a small first five that if you ever find yourself in trouble all you have to do is pass the ball inside or out and you know you will get the gain line.

"Rugby's come a long way. I suppose growing up the wingers were always known as the small fast guys but now you see the athletes running around and it's pretty impressive."

Nonu, who dwarfs his No 10, agreed there were some advantages to having a big back division, but rightly noted other nations were following suit.

"We're quite lucky we have a lot of big backs in New Zealand anyway, a lot of big Kiwis," he said. "But as you say there was no difference last week they [Scotland] had some pretty big wingers. They were pretty much the same size [as our guys] and I'm sure over the years the opposition will adopt their own bigger guys [out wide] as well.

"I can see a few bigger guys playing for Wales and England, so I think quickly everyone's catching up and it's going to be a fair contest."

Indeed, Scotland's wings Tim Visser was listed at 109kg, while Wales' George North has a similar stature, while Samoa's Alesana Tuilagi and Tonga's Fetu'u Vainikolo are veritable monsters.

Italy has no such luxury. The two wings they ran out against Tonga last weekend were Tommaso Iannone (77kg) and Luke McLean (95kg).

There's little doubt the All Blacks will run their two giant try scoring machines Savea and Gear at the Azzurri's inside channel, but it's out wide where the pair are most devastating.

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Nonu though says size isn't everything and notes that Cruden and fullback Beauden Barrett, though not big men, are as good as anyone.

And Cruden is expecting the Italians to throw plenty back at the All Blacks in the backs if the weather permits.

"If it's a nice day we've seen Italy like to move the ball around. I definitely think they will use their forward pack, that's where they get the muscle from. It's going to be a massive contest for our forwards to compete with that but they've been working hard at that.

"I think over the last few years Italy has changed the way they play a little bit, they've started to use the ball in the backs. But we still know it's going to be a battle up front where it will be won or lost."

- Stuff

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