The All Blacks are coming.
And here’s what Italy says: The Azzurri are coming, too.
The former All Black who has transformed Italy into a respectable outfit talked up his Rugby World Cup team to boldly go on Friday in Lyon where no Italians have gone before: To victory against New Zealand.
“We are not going out there to try to keep the score down. We are going out there to try to win the game,” coach Kieran Crowley said on Wednesday. “We’ve got to show some courage, we’ve got to play.”
Italy and New Zealand are in the same boat in Pool A: Chasing host France for one of the two quarterfinal places. Italy has a 2-0 record and wants to make the quarterfinals for the first time. New Zealand has a rare 1-1 record, and needs the win to ensure its progress towards the quarters.
Crowley believes his team is ready. They are fitter, more disciplined, set-piece strong with threats in the backline, and play hard to the end.
After coming from behind at halftime to beat Uruguay 38-17 last week, Crowley restored the side which won the opener against Namibia by a flattering 52-8. Paolo Garbisi was at flyhalf, Ange Capuozzo on the wing, and goalkicking sharpshooter Tommaso Allan at fullback. Lock Dino Lamb, scrumhalf Stephen Varney and inside center Luca Morisi also returned.
After eight straight defeats, they have four successive wins for their longest run in 29 years.
“This group of 33 players have really matured over the last 18 months,” Crowley said. “We’ve got a lot more confidence in our ability, they back themselves, they have some courage. We have no fear. If that is going to be good enough, we will have to wait and see because it is going to be one hell of a battle. We are really looking forward to it.
“They are in a situation, same as us, they need to win to move on. So, they are going to try and impart themselves physically on us and really intimidate us, bully us. They’ll come direct and they’ll come hard. We have to embrace that challenge.”
Crowley played for the All Blacks when they won the first Rugby World Cup in 1987. He didn’t believe recent All Blacks losses to South Africa and France made them more beatable. He thought they have been caught up, and any of the top six or so can beat the other on the day. Italy, though, is ranked 11th.
“You look at France or South Africa, they are such big men, they are massive; the way they play doesn’t quite suit us,” he said. “But we are not going to be stupid about how we play. We’ve looked at the way we think we can put pressure on New Zealand and we will attempt to do that in different places.”
The bad news for Italy is that New Zealand is injury free after its bye week and has welcomed flanker Shannon Frizell and inside back Jordie Barrett into the starting side, and squad captain Sam Cane and prop Tyrel Lomax into the reserves. All will make their first appearances at this Rugby World Cup.
Coach Ian Foster received Crowley’s comments gratefully. He wants Italy to be a challenge.
“Everyone is trying to (bully). They’ll be trying to do that to us,” Foster said. “It’s a physical game. It’s not a lack of respect from anyone. Both teams, there’s a lot at stake. This was always going to be a game we knew we had to get really excited about and play well in.
“The good thing is that we are playing a team that is confident. They’ve earned that. The last two years, we’ve seen a lot of growth in their game. I made the point after the Six Nations, I thought they were one of the highlights of the Six Nations, the way they played and the competitiveness of all their games.”
New Zealand: Beauden Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Mark Tele’a, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Ardie Savea (captain), Dalton Papali’i, Shannon Frizell, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu’ungafasi. Replacements: Dane Coles, Tamaiti Williams, Tyrel Lomax, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Cam Roigard, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown.
Italy: Tommaso Allan, Ange Capuozzo, Juan Ignacio Brex, Luca Morisi, Montanna Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Lorenzo Cannone, Michele Lamaro (captain), Sebastian Negri, Federico Ruzza, Dino Lamb, Marco Riccioni, Giacomo Nicotera, Danilo Fisichetti. Reserves: Hame Faiva, Ivan Nemer, Simone Ferrari, Niccolo Cannone, Manuel Zuliani, Toa Halafihi, Martin Page-Relo, Paolo Odogwu.
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