Rugby: All Blacks battle to win over Italy

Aaron Cruden is tackled by Alberto Sgarbi of Italy. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
Aaron Cruden is tackled by Alberto Sgarbi of Italy. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
New Zealand moved through the gears after a sluggish start to beat Italy 42-10 in Rome this morning (NZT).

Tries from Kieran Read, Ma'a Nonu, Cory Jane and two from Julian Savea plus 17 points from the boot of Aaron Cruden were enough for New Zealand to see off Jacques Brunel's team, who were roared on by a capacity Olympic Stadium crowd.

Leading 13-7 at halftime, the All Blacks had to wait until the 49th minute before they registered a second try when Nonu crashed over from close range and late tries from Jane and Savea completed the victory.

Italy far exceeded their tepid display against Tonga last weekend and pushed New Zealand back from the start which left a lasting impression on All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

"I'd like to congratulate Italy on playing a great game of rugby. I thought the attitude of their game was outstanding," Hansen told reporters.

"The most important thing is that the 70,000 people will have gone home with the idea that rugby is a great game, which is better than the last time at the San Siro," he said in reference to their 2009 clash.

Despite Italy's strong start the visitors opened the scoring on 13 minutes with a Cruden penalty then they quickly scored their first try, Conrad Smith eluding the Italy defence and slipping in Kieran Read for an easy touch down to make it 10-0.

Another penalty from Cruden after 19 minutes made it 13-0 but Italy responded with a long spell of possession which rocked the New Zealand defence and eventually resulted in an Alberto Sgarbi try with 25 minutes gone.

Hansen's team should have extended their 13-7 lead five minutes later when another incisive attack ended with Hosea Gear dropping the ball just as he looked certain to score.

But Italy were a threat with their forwards driving New Zealand back, and but for better choices inside the 22 could have gone in at halftime at least level.

"Italy came to play rather than keep the score down," said an impressed Hansen.

"If Italy want to become a great rugby nation they have to learn to play, and at half time it was only one try each."

Cruden made it 16-7 to New Zealand early in the second half, and after piling on the pressure quickly added to that total with Nonu try, which was converted to make it 23-7.

Luciano Oquera moved Italy onto 10 points with a drop goal on 52 minutes, but a brilliant try from Jane made it 28-10 with just over 10 minutes remaining when he rounded off a flowing attacking move by bursting through the Italian defence.

After such a resilient display Italy were holding on to avoid a heavy defeat but were unable to do so as Savea scored twice in the final seven minutes as Cruden added one conversion for his 17-point haul.

"We were up against a great side, but it's upsetting to lose like that. However today we have shown that we can make plays and cause problems," said Italian captain Sergio Parisse.

"I don't want to talk about 2009, because today we tried to move the ball. We tried to play a more interesting rugby than we have in the past, we looked to involve the backs."

Opposite number Read, captaining New Zealand for the first time, said Italy have improved no end.

"The test match was a great advertisement for the game. They've put a lot of heat on us early on which we expected, but they're a top side now," he said.

"Test matches aren't won in the first 20 minutes, they're won over 70-80 minutes."