ROME -- New Zealand finished much better than it started in overcoming a fearless Italy 42-10 before a satisfied sell-out crowd of more than 70,000 at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
The crowd got a show from the All Blacks, who scored three of their five tries in the last 12 minutes, and the Azzurri were in the game for longer than most expected.
For more than an hour, the Italians frustrated New Zealand with a robust defence that also didn't give the visitors the width they enjoyed in thrashing Scotland 51-22 the previous weekend. New Zealand struggled to get the ball wide until the fourth quarter when the benches were cleared and play loosened up.
Until then, the All Blacks, who changed 14 of their side, couldn't get their quick-ruck game going, and suffered from dropped passes. They led only 13-7 at halftime and didn't really make the result safe until the 50th minute when winger Julian Savea entered the backline and midfielder Ma'a Nonu cut inside the defence and dragged Mirco Bergamasco on his back to the tryline.
Flyhalf Aaron Cruden, who missed only one of his eight shots at goal, converted for 23-7.
Meanwhile, Italy showed verve and variety in attack, and with a little more support could have scored more than its one try.
"They put a lot of heat on us early on. We expected that. It shows how far along they've come in the last few years," said Kieran Read, in his first match as All Blacks captain. "Sometimes test matches are not won in the first 20 minutes and it takes 60-80 minutes to wear a side down."
New Zealand's ability to score from anywhere told in the end.
Replacement winger Cory Jane scored from a lineout in the 68th, and Cruden then just missed a try from an error by Italy scrumhalf Tobias Botes on his own tryline. Savea bagged the last two tries, one starting from a five-meter scrum, and the other a counterattack surge by Jane.
"This group hasn't played for three weeks," New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said. "We were a bit rusty in the first half but we met the challenge of the Italians."
Italy had its top players back after a scratchy 28-23 win over Tonga a week ago, and the Azzurri made a solid start before allowing Cruden to give the All Blacks the lead with a penalty 13 minutes in.
Soon after, Cruden broke through the defence around halfway but dropped his pass. Center Conrad Smith tidied up and sent Read streaking in between the posts for the first try. Cruden converted and added a penalty and the All Blacks seemed to be on their way at 13-0.
But Italy enjoyed a better second quarter. Throwing away kickable penalties to score a try, Italy's spirit was rewarded when lasting pressure ended with centre Alberto Sgarbi picking Cruden, the All Blacks' smallest back, to beat for a converted try.
Bergamasco finished the half by saving a try, his head dislodging the ball from opposite Hosea Gear.
"Italy came to play, they didn't come to keep the score down," Hansen said. "If Italy wants to become a great rugby nation they have to do that."
The new half wasn't as kind for Italy. It lost its poise with substitutions and the All Blacks, with strength in depth, exploited Italy's decline in possession and ambition.
"All of us are very tired," Italy captain Sergio Parisse said. "The last 20 minutes were very tough."
New Zealand 42 (Julian Savea 2, Kieran Read, Ma'a Nonu, Cory Jane tries; Aaron Cruden 4 conversions, 3 penalties), Italy 10 (Alberto Sgarbi try; Luciano Orquera conversion, dropped goal) HT: 13-7.