Italy take on All Blacks without captain Troncon

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The Independent Online

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.