All Blacks cling on to beat Italy

Italy 6 New Zealand 20
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The Independent Online

Martin Castrogiovanni gave another peerless scrummaging performance to help Italy take the second string All Blacks right down to the wire in this historic Test match at the San Siro, Milan.

The Italians, their scrum supreme throughout a dank, chill afternoon, spent the last 10 to 12 minutes pounding away at the New Zealand line. The New Zealanders conceded six penalties and dropped countless scrums as they were constantly marched backwards.

But New Zealand escaped the ultimate punishment because Australian referee Stuart Dickinson seemed to be too frightened to award the Italians the penalty try they should have had. If he had, Italy would have been within a converted try of a draw at 13-20 and the All Blacks seemed shot.

Last week, Wales coach Warren Gatland claimed that referees favoured the New Zealanders because they were scared of refereeing an upset. His case received apparent backing by Dickinson’s craven performance before an 80,000 audience.

No wonder Italian coach Nick Mallett kissed Castrogiovanni on both cheeks in full view of the whole stadium at the end. The Leicester tight head, who had destroyed the South African scrummage last weekend, was again a one-man wrecking machine and rightly earned the man of the match award.

All Black loose head Wayne Crockett was constantly penalised for collapsing before he was substituted on the hour. But when Neemia Tialata moved across from tight head to take his place, he too was crushed. Eventually, even after Castrogiovanni had been substituted, Tialata was yellow carded after four scrum collapses. Yet still Dickinson wouldn’t give the penalty try.

The sight of the haka at the San Siro had been a dramatic opening. It was just a pity not much of the rugby that followed was equally entertaining.

Both sides made frequent mistakes and neither had the authority to take full control. New Zealand, with a makeshift side after making 12 changes from the team that won in Wales, were happy to rely on the goal kicking of Luke McAlister to keep them ahead. The former Sale Sharks player landed goals after 7, 15, 38, 45 and 73 minutes as Italy paid the price for a stream of technical offences.

Craig Gower replied twice for the Italians, putting them ahead on four minutes and adding another on the hour. It said something about the New Zealanders’ lack of ambition that, even with a 17-6 lead, they never felt safe enough to break out and search for further tries. Instead, McAlister kept lining up penalty kicks. His final tally was five out of nine.

The only try of the match came after 26 minutes and was finished off in the left corner by hooker Corey Flynn. Tamati Ellison and McAlister made darts into the Italian 22 and when the ball was quickly recycled, Sitiveni Sivivatu put Flynn over with a neat pass.

Neither side could demonstrate much cohesion and the errors kept coming. But the denouement was extraordinary. It must be years since a New Zealand scrum was so humiliated for such a prolonged spell near its own line. The Italians were incensed by Dickinson’s display and rightly so. He alone saved the All Blacks.

Scorers: ITALY

Pen. Gls: Gower (2)

NEW ZEALAND

Try: Flynn

Penalty Goals: McAlister (5)

TEAMS

ITALY: L.McLean; K. Robertson, G. Canale, G. Garcia, Mi. Bergamasco; C. Gower, T. Tebaldi (sub. S. Picone 64 mins); S. Perugini (sub. L. Rouyet 61 mins), L. Ghiraldini (sub. F. Ongaro 71mins), M. Castrogiovanni (sub. S. Perugini 68 mins), C.Del Fava (sub. J. Sole 48 mins), Q. Geldenhuys, A. Zanni (sub. S. Favaro 70 mins), Ma. Bergamasco, S. Parisse (Capt.)

NEW ZEALAND: C. Jane; B. Smith, T. Ellison, L. McAlister, S.Sivivatu; M. Delany (sub. S. Donald 66 mins), A. Ellis (sub. J. Cowan 61mins); W. Crockett (sub. J. Afoa 61 mins), C. Flynn, N. Tialata (sub. W. Crockett 76 mins), T. Donnelly, A. Boric, L. Messam, T. Latimer, R. So’oialo (Capt).

REFEREE: S. Dickinson (Australia)

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