Italy brace for daunting task
Milan - Flanker Simone Favaro says Italy will be concentrating on the collective challenge of world champions the All Blacks, and not just legendary captain Richie McCaw, when the teams meet in Rome on Saturday.
Italy started their three-Test autumn series with an edgy 28-23 win over a feisty Tonga on Saturday.
Although Azzurri coach Jacques Brunel looked for the positives after a game in which several regulars did not appear until the second half, captain Sergio Parisse gave a stark appraisal of their performance.
"It's an important week for us, we'll regroup and train for next week in calm conditions but we can't play like that for 80 minutes against the All Blacks," said Parisse.
It may have been less than perfect preparation ahead of meeting the world's most successful rugby team for the 12th time, less than a week after their 51-22 defeat of Scotland.
But Treviso flanker Favaro says Italy are relishing the challenge, and their resolve will remain the same whether McCaw plays or not.
"We're challenging the world champions, the team that plays the best rugby and the one all rugby players dream of playing against," said Favaro, an unused replacement against Tonga at the weekend.
"The fact we're playing New Zealand has changed the whole atmosphere in the team, which is great.
"We have a chance to understand the level we're at... playing against the All Blacks is an important test for all of our players."
New Zealand could have rested flanker McCaw ahead of more testing challenges in upcoming games against Six Nations Grand Slam winners Wales then England, but he could now be a starter if Adam Thomson is banned.
A decision on Thomson, cited for stamping on the head of Scotland loose forward Alasdair Strokosch early in the second half of their win at Murrayfield, is expected on Wednesday.
"We're playing against New Zealand as a whole, we really don't care whether he (McCaw) plays or not," said Favaro.
Italy have never come close to beating the All Blacks, but Favaro says the Azzurri won't let past results hamper their game plan.
"We'll start as underdogs, but we won't turn up believing we're already beaten: if we believe that then we risk a heavy defeat," he added.
"Defeats come at the end of matches, never before."
New Zealand will name their team on Thursday morning.