McCaw gives 'must do better' report card   9 Nov 2009

RUGBY - The All Blacks boarded their charter flight to Milan on Monday braced for wholesale changes against Italy, with their captain demanding big improvements from their narrow escape against Wales.

Some desperate late defence at a packed Millennium Stadium saw the All Blacks cling on for a 19-12 win, which stretched their winning streak against Wales to 21 tests and maintained their seven-year unbeaten record on northern hemisphere tours.

Focus will shift to the fringe players this week, with the likes of lock Anthony Boric, flanker Liam Messam, halfback Andy Ellis, five-eighths Stephen Donald, Luke McAlister and Mike Delany and fullback Ben Smith all pushing for starts at a sold out San Siro.

Captain Richie McCaw, who along with man-of-the-match Dan Carter looks likely to rest this week, emerged from Cardiff with mixed feelings after a torrid test.

"The guys are happy enough but they realise we can play some better rugby too. In the first half we kicked a bit much ball away and took a few wrong options," McCaw said.

"At halftime we said we needed to play a bit more and we did that for the first 20 after halftime. They're happy to have got the result because it wasn't easy out there, but realise that we've got the potential to be better.

"That's exciting, you still want a tough test match when you feel like you haven't nailed it all. "

Continuity will be the tricky task this week with coach Graham Henry saying yesterday he was comfortable with all 33 players in the squad getting their chance to impress.

He said after the pre-planned selections for the Wallabies, Wales and Italy, the slate would be wiped clean for selections for England and France and they would pick their strongest lineup for the Marseille test.

This week a largely second-string side will get a taste of the big time against coach Nick Mallett's Italy, with San Siro a 75,000 sell-out, the second biggest crowd for a non-soccer event in the stadium's history.

The last time the ground was packed for something other than soccer was boxer Duilio Loi's fight with Puerto Rico's Carlos Ortiz for the super-lightweight world title in 1960.

The post-match Cardiff review would centre on yet another slow start, which saw them level 6-6 at halftime, poor option taking, sluggish counter attack and their inability to put Wales to sleep after a strong third quarter.

"We defended pretty well. Defence reflects your true character and attitude and we're certainly not wanting in that department," assistant coach Wayne Smith said.

"From a coaching point of view we've got to improve our transition from defence into attack. We had some good opportunities when we got turnovers, and didn't really use them."

Hooker Andrew Hore scored the All Blacks' only try after an intense buildup, while they had three other potential tries denied by the English television match official.

Keeping Wales try-less was a big positive and it set the bar for a tour goal to emulate last year's northern tour effort and keep their line intact in Milan, London and Marseille.

Said centre Conrad Smith: "Obviously we love it. We haven't talked about it too much but Wayne's now the defensive coach and he'd probably be pretty keen, he's taken over from Ted (Henry) and we did that last year, so that could be a goal."


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