All Blacks soak up golden history

TOBY ROBSON IN ROME
Last updated 15:57 17/11/2012
Hosea Gear
HANNAH JOHNSTON/ Getty
KEEN: Hosea Gear contemplates the task ahead of him at Rome's Stadio Olympico.

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It may not match the moment for historical significance, but the All Blacks will take inspiration from the feats of Peter Snell and Murray Halberg when they run onto the famous Stadio Olimpico pitch to play Italy.

The giant white marble statues of naked athletes that line the various facilities built for the 1960 Olympic Games’ main stadium remain 52 years later.

For Kiwis they are the most visible reminder of September 2, 1960, the day Snell and Halberg famously won gold in the 800m and 5000m respectively.

Inside the ground, the red running track is covered by Astroturf with the ground mainly used these days as the home of Serie A football clubs Lazio and Roma.

But as the All Blacks took in the atmosphere of the 70,000 seat ground, first time captain Kieran Read confirmed New Zealand’s Golden Hour was in their thoughts.

“It’s one of the greatest moments in New Zealand’s Olympic history so if we can do it justice tomorrow that would be great,” he said.

“It hasn’t been [discussed] too much, but the guys certainly know about it and have talked about it amongst themselves.

“They are two sporting legends and there is no bigger feat than a gold medal so to be playing in the same arena with a lot of history, it’s amazing.’’

Centre Conrad Smith echoed those sentiments saying it would be special to play at a second venue where Snell had won gold medals.

The All Blacks played at Tokyo’s National Stadium in 2009, the venue where Snell won two gold medals in the 800m and 1500m at the 1964 Olympics.

“It’s not something you expect as a rugby player to be playing at these grounds, but it’s something I realised as soon as I knew the venue of the game,” he said.

“I was just re-enacting the moment Snell crossed the line with our phsyio.

“I couldn’t remember exactly what he did, so I’ll have to check back on the videos, but hopefully we can perform as well as Snell performed all those years back.”

And the return to Rome is also significant to Smith for another reason.

He made his test debut at the Stadio Flaminio in 2004, scoring a try during the All Blacks 59-10 win over the Azzurri.

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This time around the venue is a little more famous.

The impressive stadium is the centre piece of the Foro Italia sports complex, a project initiated by the fascist regime of Mussolini.

When the venue was officially opened in 1953 it hosted 100,000 fans, but by the time the 1960 Games rolled around its capacity had been reduced to 53,000 due to seats replacing the terraces.

When Italy was awarded the 1990 Football World Cup it received a major modernisation and it is essentially the same today.

The All Blacks will face a passionate local crowd and a patchy pitch, but with the memories of Snell and Halberg in their minds are expected to reach the finish line ahead of their opponents after 80 minutes.

- Stuff

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