Italy seek to bridge the gap
Italy's prospects of advancing in this World Cup will almost certainly depend on their final Pool C match with Ireland on October 2, but Nick Mallett has resisted the temptation to rest their big guns against Australia in North Harbour tomorrow.
Mallett, who departs as coach at the end of the World Cup, has named his strongest available side against the team many rate as the one most likely to upset the All Blacks on home soil.
He said: "We've played Australia four times in the four years that I have been coaching Italy, twice in Italy and twice away, and every time they've scored 30 points against us and we have been between by 10-20 points virtually every time. That has been the gap between us.
"Obviously, we think we're a side that's improving and we hope that we can do better this time. This is the most experienced and the best team that we can put on the field."
Italy's strengths and weakness are well known, so Australia will have to combat a redoubtable pack and put in the hard yards before their superior pace and world-class playmakers behind the scrum come into play. Italy's pack is probably stronger than ever in New Zealand with the veteran Cornelius van Zyl, once talked about as a future Springbok, now in the fold after qualifying through naturalisation.
Mallett has generally been pleased with Italy's preparation although, if anything, he felt his side were too ambitious in attack against Scotland in a warm-up last month. He said: "We were trying to play too much in our half and made a lot of unforced errors against Scotland. We gave away 12 to 15 points from our mistakes. So, obviously, we can't do that against Australia who will punish you severely."
As for the Wallabies, they arrived for the tournament on a high after clinching the Tri-Nations title in thrilling fashion against New Zealand last month and, if their forwards can subdue the Italians, there should be a first glimpse at this World Cup of their talented back division in action.
Quade Cooper, born in New Zealand, and Will Genia are the catalysts for much that is good while full-back Kurtley Beale is another player tipped to take the tournament by storm. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Australia -- K Beale; A Ashley-Cooper, A Fainga, P McCabe, D Ioane; Q Cooper, W Genia; S Kepu, S Moore, B Alexander, D Vickerman, J Horwill (capt), R Elsom, D Pocock, R Samo. Replacements: T Polota-Nau, J Slipper, B McCalman, L Burgess, S Higginbotham, R Simmons, J O'Connor.
Italy -- A Masi; T Benvenuti, G Canale, G Garcia, M Bergamasco; L Orquera, F Semenzato; A Lo Cicero, L Ghiraldini, M Castrogiovanni, C Del Fava, C van Zyl, A Zanni, R Barbieri, S Parisse (capt). Replacements: T D'Apice, L Cittadini, L McLean, M Bortolami, P Derbyshire, E Gori, R Bocchino.
Ref -- A Rolland (Ireland).