Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: ABs need to keep it quick

Tempo and quick recycling have been identified by the All Blacks as the key methods to avoid being dragged into a dog fight as they were the last time they played in Italy.

In 2009 a huge crowd at the San Siro in Milan were left disappointed by a fractious game that never flowed and was dominated by scrums and scrum re-sets. It was a massive anti-climax and typical of the rugby that was played in a year where kick and chase became the norm.

Such a scenario is being viewed as unlikely tonight by All Black vice-captain Conrad Smith, who made his debut in Rome in 2004 - albeit at the smaller Stadio Flaminio.

"I think the team [Italy] is a little bit different," said Smith.

"From what I have seen of the Italians in the last 12 months - I wouldn't say they were negative the last time they played us here - but it really does make a difference when two teams are both playing.

"The Italians do play a lot more expansively than they did back then and that will help the game.

We have got to make sure that we play the way we enjoy playing and we have to be aware that hey might try to frustrate at times. But if we stick to what we know we will be fine."

What they know is fast-pace, multi-skilled rugby that generates width and stretches then breaks defences. The Italians have the best set-piece in Europe and are particular good on the touchlines. They will back themselves to steal New Zealand's ball and won't mind kicking the ball out rather than provide counter attacking opportunities.

If they can keep the game static and deny the All Blacks any flow or rhythm, they will be a surprisingly tough opponent. Italy are not the pushover of old if they can gain parity upfront and keep themselves in the game for 40 minutes.

Last year they beat France in the Six Nations and this year, while they only defeated Scotland, they should have taken England's scalp as well but blew a golden opportunity.

Smith and captain Kieran Read know they can't let the game descend into an arm wrestle or allow the Italians to control the ball for long periods. Read will be especially conscious of the need for the All Blacks to impose themselves early and deliver a quality performance as he wants his first game as captain to be memorable for all the right reasons. He even confessed to a touch of nervousness.

"A lot of excitement and a bit of nervousness," he said about he was feeling.

"It is sort of like winning your first cap I guess - you never forget it. If you look at the forward pack the Italians are putting out, there is no shortage of experience and we know it's a big challenge and I just want for us to go out and play as well as we can."

- APNZ

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