ROME (AP) — New Zealand struggled early against Italy in former All Black Kieran Crowley’s debut as Azzurri coach before pulling out a record-breaking 47-9 win on Saturday.
An entirely new starting XV from that which crushed Wales 54-16 last weekend took nearly half an hour to settle down at the Stadio Olimpico. At that point, New Zealand stopped throwing the ball around and messing up and went the direct route by outmuscling the Italian pack. It wasn’t pretty but it was effective.
The forwards set up tries for replacement scrumhalf Finlay Christie and two for hooker Dane Coles to lead 21-6 at halftime. The game opened up somewhat in the second half, but it finished with Coles’ replacement, Asafo Aumua, also bagging two tries from overpowering rolling mauls.
“We were guilty of forcing too many passes, too many mistakes and our discipline was poor at times,” returning captain Sam Cane said. “But I am proud of us that we kept our patience, we didn’t get too frustrated. That could have easily gone that way at times.
“We managed to sort of grind out in the end a pretty good score but, man, there’s a lot of things to work on.”
Their 47 points lifted them to 675 points, a record for a calendar year. New Zealand surpassed the 658 of South Africa’s world champions in 2007.
Their seven tries also gave them 96 on the year, eclipsing the 92 by Argentina in 2003.
But records were far from consideration the way the All Blacks started. They committed six handling errors and six penalties in one of their worst first quarters in memory. Many were unforced despite Italy’s pressure.
The origin of their first try was a bad pass from No. 8 Hoskins Sotutu. Italy received the put in but New Zealand bulldozed the scrum and Christie barged over from close range. Coles then scored his pair in quick succession and the score flattered the visitors.
“I’ve got to give a lot of praise to Italy. They came out with a lot of passion, put us under a huge amount of pressure,” Coles said. “We had to work really hard and I don’t think the scoreline probably reflects how hard we had to work for those tries.”
Paolo Garbisi replied with a couple of penalties, and after halftime added a third in off the post during another good period for Italy that frustrated New Zealand.
But like they did against Wales, the All Blacks finished strong with four tries in the last quarter.
Prop Ofa Tuungafasi offloaded to Christie, who set wing Sevu Reece free to the tryline. Aumua then scored his pair blasting off mauls, and an unmarked Sotutu was released by George Bridge to charge down the wing and score.
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