OPINION: Italy tends to bring out the ugly in the All Blacks.
You could go as far to say they are a bogey team of sorts.
Maybe it's the glorious sights, the food; all the distractions. Whatever it is, the All Blacks seem to disintegrate when they face the Italians.
Two years ago in Milan even the most enthusiastic All Blacks supporters struggled to sit through a painful 20-6 win and the 21-point victory in Christchurch earlier that year was arguably the worst in modern memory.
This test at Stadio Olimpico was no different. Sloppy is paying the All Blacks a compliment they don't deserve.
There was no romance in Rome for several fringe tourists.
Aaron Cruden won't look back on this match with much joy. While the Chiefs first five-eighths looked good taking the ball to the line and his goal kicking was accurate, too often he threw wayward passes to breakdown momentum.
There was also a distinct lack of direction and some aimless kicking.
Hosea Gear was another to dent his chances, losing the ball over the line to blow a certain first-half try and slipping off several tackles, before making one quality second-half break.
Enterprise is not a term usually associated with the Azzurri, but one may suggest they produced more beauty than the All Blacks, until the final 10-minute flurry.
The Italians are supposedly the best set-piece side in the Six Nations.
The All Blacks were therefore expecting more of the same forward-orientated spoiling tactics.
Instead, Italy took on the All Blacks at their own game. Who knew they possessed the ability to produce such entertaining rugby? This was the way the game should be played, even in the northern hemisphere.
Attacking cross-field kicks and classical interweaving off-loads between backs and forwards were features of their work
Of course, there was also plenty of the rough stuff they crave. The locals defended and contested the breakdown with ferocious commitment.
Inspirational, cult-like prop Martin Castrogiovanni, captain Sergio Parisse and openside Simone Favaro were the leaders in this regard.
Italians by nature are passionate people.
So with a feverish sell-out crowd of 80,000 urging them on, their fire and brimstone approach was only enhanced.
From the opening whistle they took to the ultimate challenge they had labelled "Everest". They didn't reach the summit, but for most of the contest they could see the peak.
Nearly every local gave their team a standing ovation when they headed to the sheds just six points (13-7) behind the world champions at half-time.
After scraping past Tonga 28-23 last week few expected the Italians to be within touching distance of the All Blacks.
But for almost 70 minutes swarming blue jerseys were on a par with their black opposites. There was no clear division in class as many thought would become evident.
Two comfortable wins over Scotland and Italy suggests the All Blacks are coasting along just fine.
But anyone who viewed this largely shoddy effort will realise there is much work to be done before tougher tests against Wales and England.
- © Fairfax NZ News