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All Blacks let down by decision-making with ball-in-hand

By Tom Vinicombe
Tyrel Lomax loses the ball in contact. (Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/Photosport)

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The All Blacks may have eventually romped out to a comfortable 47-9 win over Italy on Saturday, but the performance left plenty to be desired.

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It wasn’t until the 28th minute that the All Blacks were finally able to crack the Azzurri defence, with Finlay Christie pouncing on a loose ball from a fluffed Italian scrum to nab his first test try and pave the way for a 21-3 lead at halftime, after Dane Coles crashed over for two scores of his own.

The All Blacks were their own worst enemies throughout the match, dropping high balls, shelling simple passes and overplaying in the contact area to constantly hand possession back to Italy.

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Jim Hamilton catches up with former Wallabies scrum-half Will Genia.
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Jim Hamilton catches up with former Wallabies scrum-half Will Genia.

Tupou Vaa’i, Quinn Tupaea, Braydon Ennor and Damian McKenzie were particularly guilty, making over 10 handling errors between them.

Still, the mighty defence of the All Blacks coupled with their clear superiority at the set-piece meant even with the numerous mistakes, Italy weren’t able to hold out against the black tide. The fact that the All Blacks were able to rally and still score a comfortable win left head coach Ian Foster content after the match, even if there were plenty of work-ons to take out of the game.

“I think it was a good learning performance where we learned to deal with pressure and came out the other side, so that side of it I’m pretty pleased with,” he said. “To finish both halves in a really strong manner was pleasing.

“Clearly, we probably have to work on some of our decision-making with the ball a little bit better, we put ourselves into a few brick walls at times but that’s okay, we’ll tidy that up.”

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The All Blacks had completely rotated out their starting XV from the previous win over Wales, which could be partially blamed for some of the disconnect between the players. Many of the players in the line-up were also lacking in test experience, with six of the starters boasting fewer than 10 caps.

As such, the strong performance at scrum and line-out was a particular positive for the All Blacks, with Italy conceding one penalty and two tightheads at scrum time and winning just eight of their 15 lineouts.

“I think if you judge our pack based on some of the set-piece work we did, I think it was really, really good,” Foster said. “We carried well but we also tried to overcomplicate that for parts. Overall, pretty pleased.

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“Like I’ve said right from day one, it’s a tour like no other. We’ve had to make sure that we grow depth on this tour because we’ve got players here for a long, long time. And again, we’re delighted with the progress we’re getting out of that. Tonight’s just another really good learning curve for a number of newer players.”

Many of the players in the match will have featured in their final game of the season for the All Blacks, with the last two tests coming against Ireland and France, who Foster will likely field his top team against.

Nearing the end of a mammoth 15-test season, the match was one final opportunity for some aspiring first-stringers to push their case, and other junior members of the team to simply get some minutes under their belts. In that sense, the win was a success for Ian Foster’s men.

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