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Rugby World Cup: All Blacks brush off Italy coach’s ‘bully’ claim ahead of crunch clash

Rugby World Cup, pool A: All Blacks v Italy. Where: OL Stadium, Lyon. When: 8am Saturday (NZT). Coverage: Live on Sky Sport 1, live updates on Stuff, delayed stream on Stuff from 9.30am.

Ian Foster looked quizzical. Ardie Savea just chuckled. When told Italy coach Kieran Crowley had declared the All Blacks would try to “bully and intimidate” in Saturday’s (NZT) Rugby World Cup pool clash in Lyon, coach and captain were for a moment lost for words.

The All Blacks are not even three weeks off their first ever pool-stage defeat at a World Cup by a record margin against the hosts (27-13). That puts them just one bad 80 minutes against the Italians from being dispatched home historically early.

Indeed, that French faux-pas followed hot on the heels of their biggest ever defeat in the test arena when they were ground into the Twickenham turf 35-7 by South Africa in their final hit-out ahead of the global event.

And it’s the All Blacks that are the bullies and the intimidators?

Here was what Crowley, the Taranaki rugby legend and former head coach of Canada, said after unveiling his lineup to face the All Blacks at this splendid football stadium on the outskirts of Lyon.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster is expecting Italy to bring their best when they meet in Lyon on Saturday (NZT).

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

All Blacks coach Ian Foster is expecting Italy to bring their best when they meet in Lyon on Saturday (NZT).

“We are under no illusions as to what is coming. They are going to come at us and they are going to be aggressive and they are going to try to intimidate us. They’ll try to bully us. We have to embrace that challenge.”

Foster and Savea both looked nonplussed. They are playing for their own World Cup lives against a team universally acknowledged as one of the big improvers in the international game. It is not so much about bullying anyone, or even intimidating anyone. It is about playing the right style of rugby to put this team back into contention at this global tournament.

“That’s rugby,” responded Foster after unveiling an interesting and power-packed lineup to face the Italians. “Everyone’s trying to do that. They’ll be trying to do that to us. It’s a physical game. It’s not a lack of respect from anyone. There’s a lot at stake. This was always going to be a game we had to get excited about, and play well in.

AARON WOOD/STUFF

The All Blacks team to play Italy at OL Stadium, Lyon on Saturday (NZT).

“Nothing’s changed. The good thing is that we’re playing a team that’s confident, and they’ve earned that. The last two years we’ve seen a lot of growth in their game and I thought they were one of the highlights of the Six Nations the way they played and the competitiveness of all their games. We’re expecting a tough battle.”

Asked if physicality and aggression were part and parcel of the game at this level, Savea smiled and nodded in agreement.

“And if you’re not physical, it’s gonna be a long day,” said the No 8 who will once again lead the All Blacks with Sam Cane handed a bench role this week. “Both teams are going to try and bring their best on Friday night. We respect Italy. They’ve played some awesome footy in the last couple of games. It’s a great challenge for us.”

Foster’s team reflects that. Jordie Barrett and Shannon Frizell return from injury to starting duty; Cane and Tyrel Lomax likewise via the bench. Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett get the nod in the second row, and Dalton Papalii at 7. Sam Whitelock (for his record-breaking 149th test) slots on to a bench alongside Cane, Dane Coles, Lomax, young man-mountain Tamaiti Williams, Cam Roigard, Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown that looks full of impact and firepower.

Foster had a pretty solid explanation for why he didn’t go down the romantic route and allow Whitelock to start the test where he finally surpasses Richie McCaw’s all-time All Blacks mark.

“Every game he’s achieving something new. He equalled a record last week, He’s going to beat it this week. Then he’s got 150 coming up and the most capped All Black at a World Cup. Every day is a statement of something that he’s achieving. As a team we respect those achievements and we’ll do our celebration after the games. Right now what the team needs to achieve is bigger than the individual.”

All Blacks captain Ardie Savea says his side must win the physical battle against the improving Italians.

Christophe Ena/AP

All Blacks captain Ardie Savea says his side must win the physical battle against the improving Italians.

The coach also explained Frizell’s important return at No 6 against a busy Italian loose trio.

“He’s been challenged this year and has brought in many ways a simplicity to his game. He’s just focusing on the quality of his ball-carry, quality of his tackle and his connections with [his team-mates]. That’s all we want from him.”

An Italian journalist then enquired if the All Blacks really viewed Italy as a danger, given the New Zealanders’ long history of dominance.

“History means nothing,” shot back Foster. “History is yesterday’s newspaper. It’s not tomorrow’s. We prepare for an opponent playing us at their best. What we’ve seen is them leading France into the last 10 minutes of a Six Nations game. We’ve seen them pushing Ireland right to the end. They’re playing well. That’s the Italy we expect to turn up, and we’ve got to be really clear on that.”

The All Blacks shouldn’t be nervous about a match that could reignite their World Cup. But they are right to be wary. One wrong step, and the bullies could find themselves with a smack tight in the nose.

New Zealand: Beauden Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Mark Telea, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Ardie Savea (capt), Dalton Papalii, Shannon Frizell, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Ofa Tuungafasi. Reserves: 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 (capt), Sebastian Negri, Federico Ruzza, Dino Lamb, Marco Riccioni, Giacomo Nicotera, Danilo Fischetti. Reserves: Hame Faiva, Ivan Nemer, Simone Ferrari, Niccolo Cannone, Manuel Zuliani, Toa Halafihi, Martin Page-Relo, Paolo Odogwu


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