New Zealand see Italy as a genuine threat in Friday’s key World Cup Pool A clash in Lyons and will wait until after the match to celebrate Sam Whitelock becoming the most-capped All Black, coach Ian Foster said on Wednesday.
The All Blacks have never lost to Italy, often running up big scores in their previous meetings, but Foster said his team were extremely wary of the new-look Italian side.
“History means nothing really,” he told reporters. “If you look at their recent form, they’re playing well. And that’s the Italy we expect to turn up and we’ve got to make sure that we’re really clear on that. They’ve clearly decided to take risks a little bit and it’s worked for them.”
Foster was able to name Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell, Tyrel Lomax and Jordie Barrett in his matchday squad on their return from injury, while Whitelock is set to win a record 149th cap off the bench.
Frizell and Barrett will line up in the starting team at blindside flanker and inside centre for their first appearances of the tournament, while regular captain Cane and prop Lomax were named among the replacements.
Ardie Savea will captain the side from number eight, while Dalton Papali’i will start at openside flanker as Cane is eased into action after being a late withdrawal from the opening loss to France with a back problem.
Frizell, who played throughout the Rugby Championship triumph before a hamstring injury, is perhaps the most welcome return after Foster struggled to replace him.
“He’s brought a simplicity to his game,” said Foster. “He’s just focused on the quality of his ball carry, the quality of his tackle and his connections with the likes of Ardie and Sam, and this week Dalton. That’s what we want from him on Friday.”
Cam Roigard earned a spot on the bench as back-up to scrumhalf Aaron Smith after a brilliant performance in New Zealand’s 71-3 win over Namibia in the second pool game.
Loosehead Ethan de Groot misses out after being shown a red card in that match and being banned for two matches with Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Nepo Laulala the starting props.
Fleet-footed back Damian McKenzie also starts on the bench, offering the exciting prospect of him linking up with the similarly pacy Beauden Barrett and Will Jordan late in the game.
Lock Whitelock will surpass former captain Richie McCaw as the most-capped All Black if he comes off the bench to replace one of the starting secondrow duo, Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett.
“Every game he’s achieving something new at the moment,” said Foster.
“We want to honour that achievement because he’s earned that ... but right now, I think what the team needs to achieve is bigger than the individual.”
Italy made three changes to their team, with Dino Lamb, Luca Morisi and Stephen Varney returning.
Coach Kieran Crowley has reverted back to almost the same side which defeated Namibia, which sees Paolo Garbisi back at outhalf, Tommaso Allan in the fullback position and wing Ange Capuozzo as part of their attacking backline selection.
The only change from that opening 52-8 win over Namibia sees prop Marco Riccioni, who played in the victory over Uruguay, in for Simone Ferrari.
“As against previous opponents, the focus will be on our performance. Accuracy and discipline will be key,” Crowley said. “We will face this game with courage and continue to consolidate our identity.”
Lamb, who scored a try against Namibia, slots back in for Niccolo Cannone who drops to the bench after the Uruguay win, scrumhalf Varney returns in place of Alessandro Garbisi, and Morisi is back at centre.
Italy are currently in second place in Pool A, with 10 points, three points behind France and five ahead of the All Blacks. A surprise win over New Zealand would see Italy reach the knock-out stages of the World Cup for the first time.
Italy still have one more game after this, when they face hosts France, again in Lyons, on October 6th.
NEW ZEALAND (v Italy): Beauden Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Mark Telea; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala; Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett; Shannon Frizell, Dalton Papali’i, Ardie Savea (capt).
Replacements: Dane Coles, Tamaiti Williams, Tyrel Lomax, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Cam Roigard, Damian McKenzie, Anton Leinart-Brown.
ITALY: Tommaso Allan; Ange Capuozzo, Juan Ignacio Brex, Luca Morisi, Montanna Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Giacomo Nicotera, Marco Riccioni; Dino Lamb, Federico Ruzza; Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro (capt), Lorenzo Cannone.
Replacements: Hame Faiva, Ivan Nemer, Simone Ferrari, Niccolo Cannone, Manuel Zuliani, Toa Halafihi, Martin Page-Relo, Paolo Odogwu.