How do you beat the All Blacks? Not by leaving your best players on the bench, that's for sure.
There again, the Italians would hardly fancy their chan-ces of defeating New Zealand in a World Cup encounter if they had two Caesars at half-back and eight gladiators up front, so it seems quite reasonable for them to reserve some of their key men - Andrea De Rossi, Aaron Persico and the captain, Alessandro Troncon - for the ensuing battles with Wales, Canada and Tonga, which will ultimately decide their fate in this tournament. Matteo Mazzantini of Rovigo will play at scrum-half against the New Zealanders in Melbourne on Saturday, with the hugely influential Troncon on the bench.
Mauro Bergamasco, the most exciting open-side flanker in Europe until the Italian coaching staff asked him to perform a Jonah Lomu imperson-ation on the wing, has been restored to the back row. He will operate alongside two New Zealand ex-pats, Scott Palmer and Matt Phillips, who can expect little mercy from their countrymen.
If the Italians, coached by another New Zealander in John Kirwan, have voluntarily fielded an under-strength side, France may have no choice in the matter when they take on the dangerous Fijians in the heat and humidity of Brisbane this weekend.
Dimitri Yachvili, the second-string scrum-half, will be absent from the replacements' bench after joining Sylvain Marconnet, Olivier Brouzet, Yannick Jauzion and Nicolas Brusque on a growing casualty list. If the senior half-back, Fabien Galthié, finds himself on the painful end of some Pacific island tackling, Frédéric Michalak will move from outside-half to cover for him.
The Celts reported mixed fortunes yesterday. Andrew Mower, the Scottish open-side flanker, will miss his country's match with Japan due to a knee injury picked up in training. But Ireland have included in their 22 two long-term casualties, the out-sized back Shane Horgan and the even bigger front-rower John Hayes, for the must-win game against Romania in Gosford. Keith Wood will lead the Irish in their bid for a knock-out place.
The defending champions, Australia, have awarded a first international start to their new prop forward, Alastair Baxter, of New South Wales. The 26-year-old tight-head could not dream of a more difficult debut, for the Wallabies play the strongest scrummagers in the world, Argentina, in the tournament opener on Friday.Reuse content