New Zealand aiming to bounce back from Ireland loss in Italy
Italy should be afraid, very afraid.
A backlash is expected from the All Blacks in Rome on Saturday after losing to Ireland 40-29 last weekend, their first loss to the Irish in 111 years and their first test defeat in 19 matches.
An almost completely new team will play this weekend, but the stigma of defeat is on them all.
"It certainly hurts, but the beautiful thing is we get to come out this week and hopefully put in a good week's training and then put a performance in that we are really proud of against Italy," said prop Wyatt Crockett, who didn't feature in the loss to Ireland in Chicago.
"The boys were pretty gutted to lose that game. If you weren't feeling like that it would be a pretty scary thing for New Zealand rugby. ... You go through that then you wake up in the morning and get back to work. You can't afford to hang your lip on the ground for too long."
The Italians have never beaten New Zealand, either, but the odds of them winning are even greater. Indeed, the best the Azzurri hope for is damage limitation.
New Zealand hasn't lost consecutive tests since August 2011. Before Ireland, New Zealand's previous loss was to Australia in Sydney in August last year. The All Blacks reacted to that by crushing the Wallabies 41-13 in Auckland a week later, and launching an 18-match winning streak, which encompassed another Rugby World Cup title.
"After a loss, you generally try and learn as much as you can from that," Crockett said. "What went wrong, where were we lacking, I guess to try and make some adjustments, and work on those things, and then hopefully that comes out in the game."
Crockett will be a starter at Stadio Olimpico, and the 33-year-old prop will be looking to build on his world record of 43 consecutive test wins.
At 33, Crockett was the exception in a youthful New Zealand team. It has an average age of 25, and an average of 22 test caps. Coach Steve Hansen stuck to plans to give some of the less experienced members of his squad playing time. In total there were 12 changes to the starting lineup.
"Our belief has always been that we need a lot of freshness to get our performance right," assistant coach Ian Foster said. "Coming off a loss, that hurts. But it doesn't change our attitude about using the full resources of our squad to get through this tour.
"If you bring guys over (from New Zealand) you really want to give them an opportunity."
Italy was also inexperienced. Seven starters have eight caps or less.
"Our lineup isn't experimental at all, it's the best possible. Playing is the only way to get experience," coach Conor O'Shea said. "What I want to see is a team which plays the best it can and never gives up. That's what I'm expecting."
Italy lost to Argentina in O'Shea's first match in charge but finished the July tour with victories over the United States and Canada.
"Today, we don't have much confidence in ourselves and that won't change in a night," O'Shea said.
"I know we have a lot of potential in Italy ... we have to break the circle of criticism which surrounds us, become more aware of our abilities ... I want to see every player doing their own job on the pitch: It's not the result which matters, but the performance. In that sense Saturday's match is perfect for us."