By WYNNE GRAY in DUNEDIN
All Blacks coach John Mitchell has fingered the scrum as "unacceptable" and an area for huge improvement for the first test against Ireland at Carisbrook tomorrow.
"We were too smart for ourselves," he said of the All Blacks front row against Italy.
He said his side had been fortunate in being able to apply pressure in other areas of the field to overcome Italy but the All Blacks would not get the same leniency tomorrow.
Ireland would bring more set-piece authority in scrums and lineouts than Italy and had an allround structure and skill level which would be raised with the emotional passion they always bring to their rugby.
Mitchell would not pinpoint individual All Blacks for criticism but it was clear there was concern that Kees Meeuws did not lead the scrum well enough from tighthead prop. With Carl Hayman and Greg Feek showing strong form for the NZ Maori side the pressure is already on the initial group of All Black frontrowers.
Greg Somerville starts at tighthead tomorrow in an all-Crusaders pack and a side which carries 13 from his province, a record which eclipses the 12 Aucklanders who played against Italy at the 1991 World Cup in Leicester.
"We know how each other works," Somerville said. "It is a piece in the jigsaw and gives us a lot of base knowledge."
On a rotational rest last weekend, Somerville watched the Italian test on television, doing his own analysis, but is keeping it to himself.
Mitchell thought the scrum ignored the basics. He and specialist coach Richard Loe have spent time checking progress this week but have not overburdened the pack with scrum training.
Quality was better than quantity and there had to be care that there was not an over-emphasis on one area of the All Blacks game to the detriment of others.
He noted the selection of Ronan O'Gara at first five-eighths for Ireland although the All Blacks thought David Humphreys could still be a late change there. He played well last time against the All Blacks and against the Divisional XV last week.
Clearly two of the Irish weapons will be captain Keith Wood and centre Brian O'Driscoll. But it will not be a case of shutting down that pair and Ireland will wither. They are a far better side than that and if they get a fast start they will be difficult to combat.
Keith Wood has come a long way since John Mitchell first met the Irish captain at Limerick's Garryowen club in 1991.
Wood was in the under-21 side, a student paying his way by working at the local pub. Mitchell recalled several times going with his wife for a pub counter-lunch where Wood would provide fine sandwiches and soup.
"He was this tiny little guy but he had a total passion for rugby. At that time I found out his father [Gordon Wood] was a former British Lion. You could tell then that he had the desire to go all the way."