NZ 64 – Italy 10
Referee Nigel Williams (Wales)
Ah people... now you are in for a treat! The first game of the season and it is the easy one that you expect, but this time it isn't a Pacific Island Nation, but a wannabe 6 Nations team. That is Italy wanna someone else to be the '6th' Nation in European rugby.
And wouldn't you know it... we have a Welshman to referee, no doubt hand trained by some git in the fine Northern Hemispherical art of "Whistling first and ignoring questions later"!
Now we don't want any of that pussy footing around. None of that "first game to test combinations" crap! And absolutely no "good solid work out to start off the season" rubbish.
No we (the media at least) are willing to make sure that we are totally disgruntled by this game by predicting a sure-fire perfect performance of dazzling rugger, the likes of which has never before been seen... from a team that has only been together for one week.
The Ton will be broken, as will the poor wee hearts of those Eyetalians' - and a North Island stadium will for the first time this year reverberate to the sound of rampant victory... by the local team!
Reality check. Cone Stadium was closed for necessary repairs following the post S12 winning party, and the owners off sunning themselves with the proceeds! So a man is sitting on his own floor watching his own TV, and actually using the sky sport subscription that he paid for.
The shame of it all! ...Maybe I should have asked the others round?
Two great backline moves inspired by Gibson's "half break and pass". Was it just me, or did the second off-load from Cullen look only slightly less forward than the first? Never mind, no official saw it and the crowd are certainly not worried, 100 points here we come!
But things start going pear shaped. The referee doesn't have to look far for penalties, they are being cheerfully provided by both teams. Lazy running here (TM Andrae Watson enterprises - franchises open now in the Northern Hemisphere!-) hand in ruck there, not releasing, not back 10, not rolling off the tackle, and so on.
And then to create some real fun ,the scrums started. A quick commentator's curse later and the mighty ABs are being shoved around. Good Godit, a real forward battle - who would have expected it!
Thankfully Kelleher is still looking bright-eyed and tidies up. "Yes!" say all the Marshall haters. "This is what we have been waiting for!"
In amongst the 17 (count them - 17!) first half penalties there was a doosey! Gibbo Is on the Italian side of a ruck, and Italian first-five Fancesco Mazzariol (he of the simply splendid stutter drop kick-off) gives him a friendly kick in the face.
Lets be fair, it was very harmless.
But where it came from, and what thought lay behind it is well beyond me. I mean, it would hardly have burst a pimple on Gibbo's nose, it was to all intents and purposes a friendly action, resulting in one of the many cultural misunderstandings that there have been between our fine countries. (The bickering over Monte Casino being by far the worst.)
Of course as soon as Mazzariol realised his social blunder he immediately made another by hugging Gibson around the head by way of saying sorry. Hem... the Italian's will learn the hard way about NZ rugby's social customs!
In fact I think it was probably the hug that earned him the 11 week suspension! (Look if you want to do that sort of thing lad, take 5 weeks off to go to Korea/Japan! - Ah, that's the hugging, for the kicking go to Moscow.)
And finally to finish off the half we had an Andrew Merhtens 48 m penalty kick, the first for game. Why then? The commentators had a wee verbal scrap and decided that Big Rube must have been told there wasn't enough time left for a line-out. I guess that the commentators’ clock didn't read 38 minutes like the one on my TV screen.
Actually I think it was just a friendly reminder from Ruben that if he wanted he could really punish those nasty Italian's for all the infringing they were doing. It was a good thing to try, as the kicking into the corner wasn't leading to much damage being done to the score board. For large periods of the game the Italian forwards were doing a good job of defending, something that they have had a lot of practice at so far this year.
And so to half time - quick check of the netball, yes only one point in it, very good.
I didn't make many notes in the second half, I would say it was more of the same, but obviously it wasn't: The AB forwards drove a bit more, the back-line caught a few more passes. Merhts added his awesome might to a maul that resulted in a try to Kelleher.
All 3 props ended up with a try, Ralph ended up with 3. Cullen answered most of his critics with the speed of his solo try, Maling kept on being everywhere and doing everything. Robinson showed his characteristic bull rush running style - keep the legs moving bounce out of tackles and look for the gaps! Taine was doing well but wasn’t totally convincing.
In fact the only people who weren't keeping to the game plan were Kelleher who started making Marshall's service look speedy, and the entire Italian forward pack who were a model of organisation and co-ordination. The Italians never lay down, thus providing the best possible test for the AB forwards, if not our backs.
Even Jonah got the real bench starter treatment and played where he was told to, not his accustomed left wing. He didn't do too badly either, but I don't think we are going to see him get a start until well into the Tri-nations. That may well be very good thing, Jonah is no where near his best, but he certainly is in the right place to find it – in the squad at least!
So in the end we had a useful score of 64 – 10, and the Italians a captain’s try. The ABs had as much crap and rubbish (“first game to test combinations" crap, "good solid work out to start off the season” rubbish) as I would have hoped for, and to quote somebody “the coaching staff had enough to be angry about to keep the team busy next week”!
Who could ask for more? and reasonably expect to receive it?