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Fumbling All Blacks fail to impress against Italy

NEW Zealand may have beaten Italy 27-6 on Saturday, but an error-ridden performance cast doubt upon the All Blacks' capacity to defend it Tri-Nations rugby title in the upcoming series.

A string of injuries to key players, and an ebbing tide of confidence left the All Blacks vulnerable to an Italy team which attacked them at their strengths and forced the Kiwis into a slew of mistakes in the one-off test.

New Zealand winger Joe Rokocoko, warned his All Blacks jersey was at risk after a prolonged form slump, scored his first test try in almost two years as the hosts stumbled to a 13-3 halftime lead despite Italy's 70 percent territorial advantage.

Second-half tries to lock Isaac Ross -- his first in tests -- and to replacement flanker George Whitelock, who was one of five New Zealanders on debut, gave deceptive width to the winning margin.

"There were a lot of execution errors out there and we're not happy about that," New Zealand captain Mils Muliaina said. "We got a bollocking (from the coaches) at halftime. There were a lot of opportunities there but we didn't execute which is very disappointing. We've got a couple of weeks to rebuild now but we're going to have to be a whole lot better than that if we want to compete in the Tri-Nations."

New Zealand paid for its failure to build a forward platform against Italy's combative pack before attempting to launch backline raids. That made the backs easy targets for an Italy defense that rallied around midfielders Gonzalo Canale and Gonzalo Garcia.

"Before the match our coaches said 'tackle, tackle, tackle' and so we did it and I'm very proud of my team," Italy captain Sergio Parisse said after the match.

Muliaina and Ross were among the few All Blacks to enhance their reputations yesterday. The New Zealand captain attempted to spark the attack from fullback but was often left without support. Stringbean lock Ross was one forward who did to step up to Italy's physical challenge and he capped an outstanding game by scoring one try and creating another, for his Canterbury Crusaders teammate Whitelock.

All Black flyhalf Luke McAlister consistently missed touch, misplaced passes and offered several opportunities for intercepts which could have led to Italy tries.

He partially redeemed his errors with perfect goalkicking, slotting three conversions and two penalties for 12 points. Italy's points came from penalties to Australian-born fullback Luke McAlister, who had two successes from four shots at goal.


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