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All Blacks' Irish revenge on hold for Italy test

AFPAFP 11/11/2016 Justin Davis
Scott Barrett of the New Zealand All Blacks scores a try during their rugby union match against Ireland, at Soldier Field in Chicago, United States, on November 5, 2016 © Provided by AFP Scott Barrett of the New Zealand All Blacks scores a try during their rugby union match against Ireland, at Soldier Field in Chicago, United States, on November 5, 2016

Thoughts of avenging a first defeat to Ireland in over a century will take a back seat, for 80 minutes at least, when the All Blacks face new-look Italy on Saturday.

New Zealand's impressive streak of 18 consecutive Test victories was ended last week when they lost to Ireland for the first time in 111 years.

On Saturday, when former Harlequins coach Conor O'Shea leads out a largely youthful and untested Italy at the Stadio Olimpico, an All Black rout may well ensue.

But coach Steve Hansen believes New Zealand, whose 40-29 collapse to Ireland in Chicago was put down to "mental fatigue" and their "predictable" game, will have to step up their performance if they're to avoid another upset.

"It will be a tough game," Hansen said. "We have got to improve our performance from last week."

New Zealand's head coach Steve Hansen, seen prior to the start of their Bledisloe Cup Test match against Australia, at Eden Park in Auckland, on October 22, 2016 © Provided by AFP New Zealand's head coach Steve Hansen, seen prior to the start of their Bledisloe Cup Test match against Australia, at Eden Park in Auckland, on October 22, 2016

Anyone thinking New Zealand didn't already have one eye on a highly-anticipated revenge match in Dublin on November 19 has been given food for thought.

Hansen has made 12 changes for the Italy game, suggesting a fully fired-up All Blacks will grace the Aviva Stadium.

Former Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris says they will arrive "a bit like a wounded animal", adding: "The whole of Irish rugby was on a high over the weekend but the boys will be aware that the All Blacks can score from anywhere at any stage of the game."

Hansen defended his selection strategy in midweek, but said a win and a return to their usual, world-beating standards would be more than welcome.

"We always had the plan to pick this side," Hansen said after announcing his starting XV.

"This is the team we thought would be right for Italy and nothing that happened in Chicago has changed that.

"Whilst it is not the same people playing, it is the same jersey and the same expectation, so this group has got to go out and get back to the type of rugby we want to play and to the standard we want to play at."

- Fired up -

New Zealand's flank Sam Cane, seen in action during their Rugby Championship match against Argentina, at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton, on September 10, 2016 © Provided by AFP New Zealand's flank Sam Cane, seen in action during their Rugby Championship match against Argentina, at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton, on September 10, 2016

New Zealand will notably see flanker Sam Cane skipper the side for the second time while hooker Liam Coltman and teenage wing Rieko Ioane will be hoping to make international debuts from the bench after being named in the match-day 23.

Italy captain Sergio Parisse, meanwhile, is set to overtake fellow veteran Martin Castrogiovanni, who is not selected, to earn a record 120th cap.

O'Shea, who has injected a fair bit of renewed belief, if not yet results, into Italy's squad, is mostly gambling on a youthful line-up sprinkled with a few old heads.

Notably, the Irishman has handed Treviso's Giorgio Bronzini an international debut at scrum-half in an untested half-back partnership with Carlo Canna, who has only 12 caps to his name.

"A few months ago I was playing the Eccellenza league, now I'm about to line up against the world champions wearing the Italy jersey. It's like a dream," said Bronzini.

Italy captain Sergio Parisse (pictured) is set to overtake fellow veteran Martin Castrogiovanni to earn a record 120th cap © Provided by AFP Italy captain Sergio Parisse (pictured) is set to overtake fellow veteran Martin Castrogiovanni to earn a record 120th cap

O'Shea's back three of fullback Edoardo Padovani and wings Giulio Bisegni and Angelo Esposito have just 12 international appearances between them.

The second row combination of South African-born Andries Van Schalkyk and Marco Fuser is untried and flanker Maxime Mbanda will be making his first appearance on Italian soil after winning his first two caps against the USA and Canada.

More familiar heads include Australian-born Luke Mclean, who, along with veteran hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, wins his 82nd cap, at inside centre.

"O'Shea is building a great squad here, it's a mix of really experienced guys and younger athletes with interesting potential," said Ghiraldini.

"Conor is ambitious, and so we have to be even more so. There's nothing better than playing at home, we're fired up ready to give it everything."

Whether that is enough for an upset remains to be seen as the All Blacks have never lost to the Italians.

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