Not surprisingly, the Italians have always had a healthy respect for the gladiatorial side of rugby and rate themselves as the leading set-piece side in Europe.

Statistically, they have the numbers to back this up - their lineout and scrum success ratios were the best in this year's Six Nations and it's not tough to guess where the focus of their attack will lie when they meet the All Blacks on Sunday.

The challenge will be in the All Blacks' face - the pressure will come on in the scrums where Italy had enormous fun the last time they met in 2009. Back then their gloriously old school tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni enjoyed the best day of his life. Not only did he destroy Wyatt Crockett and win the hearts of his 84,000 countrymen at the San Siro, he did so almost entirely illegally and got away with it.

An unforgettable series of scrums dominated the last eight minutes of the test where the All Blacks were relentlessly penalised for supposedly collapsing. A penalty try seemed inevitable but never came and while the impression was given of Italian superiority, the post-match analysis was overshadowed by an apology delivered to the All Blacks by IRB referee boss Paddy O'Brien. He said the Italians had been binding illegally throughout that series of scrums. While that appeased the All Blacks it didn't fix the perception that the Italians still did them over in the set-piece and that they had no answers in how to deal with Castrogiovanni.


The Italian cult hero will fancy, if he's selected, he can ride his luck again and even if referee Alain Rolland is more on to it than Stu Dickinson was three years ago, the intensity of the scrummaging contest will be high.

This isn't going to surprise the All Blacks who have been preparing for all out confrontation in this area. The scrum machine has been hit hard this week in Rome.

Italy inflicted a level of humiliation on the All Blacks in Milan and there is simply no way the All Blacks are going to be ambushed like that again.

"We don't rate them as that [best scrummaging side in Europe] - that's fact," says All Black coach Steve Hansen. "If you look at the stats then they are the top side in the Six Nations and that is fact."

Scotland were remarkably competitive in the scrums last Sunday which provided a reminder that even sides in this part of the world who are supposedly deemed weak at the set-piece, have the capacity to disrupt. The Italians are a bigger threat so the All Blacks must handle themselves in the scrum battle.