… for vast tracts this was a messy, disjointed All Blacks performance where their vaunted attacking game was mostly blunted by a committed defensive effort from Kieran Crowley’s men. –Mark Hinton. Stuff, 7 November 2021

From the sublime to the messy

By Roger Childs

After a sublime second half against Wales last week the All Blacks had a disappointing outing against the Italians. Playing the weakest team in the Six Nations competition, the New Zealand failed to score in the first 30 minutes and then in the first 20 in the second half. Over half the points scored came from lineout drives, with hookers Dane Coles and Asafo Aumua scoring two tries each. Overall the score flattered the vistors.

There were some bright patches for the All Blacks, but overall they will know they played well below their best. The Italian Azzurri, coached by Taranaki’s Kieran Crowley, bustled the All Blacks into making mistakes and there were ten handing errors in the first half alone. There were also many penalties given away by the forwards for holding on or joining the ruck incorrectly. Furthermore the Azzurri won a number of turnovers.

This was the B Team and there were new combinations in the centres, the locks and the loose forwards. Nevertheless these guys are All Blacks and should have played much better. 

A very mixed display

On the bright side, the New Zealanders did dominate the set pieces and generally pushed the Italians back in the scrums. The lineout worked well and apart from one wobbly “not straight” throw from Coles, possession was gained comfortably and delivered efficiently.

The All Black tackling was solid as usual and the only Italian back to cause them problems was the jinky runner, left winger Montanna Ioane. However, home team half back Stephen Varney also had an impressive game with quick passing and tricky running.

The big disappointment for the All Blacks was the poor performance of the usually reliable Richie Mo’unga. This was his chance to press his claim for inclusion in the team in the tough final matches to come against Ireland and France. However, Beauden Barrett can sleep easy in his bed knowing that he is a certainty for the No.10 jersey, in Dublin at least.

Mo’unga did kick six out of seven conversions, but his positional kicking was sub-standard and at least four times he kicked down the throats of the Italian back markers. In previous games he has often accurately kicked cross-field to his wingers, but this never happened in Rome. He made no significant breaks and although he generally passed well there were some deliveries of the hospital variety. This was definitely opportunity lost for the Canterbury man.

Also off his game was Damian McKenzie at full back – he missed several high kicks in the air and made little ground will ball in hand. 

Did anyone play well?

Dane Coles was the stand-out in the forwards with his usual commitment in the tight, making ground in the open with ball in hand and two tries. His replacement in the second half Asafo Aumua also played well always making ground when he had the ball and two good tries from lineout drives. New lock Josh Lord had a reasonable game and Hoskins Sotutu was probably the pick of the forwards. Returning to the All Blacks after a long lay-off, Sam Cane looked short of a gallop and his captaincy was not impressive. He should have instructed the backs to  run a deeper line once the Azzurri rush defence was apparent and vary the play with short kicks over the top for players to run on to.

Half back, Findlay Christie, a late replacement for Brad Weber, was too slow getting the backline moving early on, but improved as the game proceeded. He scored an excellent solo try late in the first half and set up another one in the second.

This was a chance for the second-stringers to make a claim for inclusion in the team against Ireland, but few will challenge the incumbents. However, Dane Coles is a likely starter in Dublin at hooker.