Rugby World Cup: All Blacks 'changing gears' as crucial Italian pool clash approaches

With a break in the schedule this weekend, the past seven days for the All Blacks have commonly been referred to as a 'rest week'. Although according to veteran lock Brodie Retallick, it's been anything but.

The All Blacks coaching staff – and in particular forwards boss Jason Ryan – have aimed to take full advantage of the break in schedule to prepare the pack for the upcoming showdown with Italy next weekend in Lyon.

While they boast a flawless record against the Azzurri at World Cups - having won all five past encounters – there's no sense of resting on any laurels. The match is must-win for the All Blacks, with the result set to decide who finishes second behind France and advances to the quarter-finals.

"It's definitely been all business," said Retallick after Friday's training.

"On Wednesday we did a lot of unit work on scrum, maul and lineout and today was more around the team and our game and phase-play. Normal test weeks we don't always get a chance to spend a lot of time on those things, so hopefully we've got a more well-rounded game now.

"You know training is ramped up when you walk off feeling pretty stiff and you need a day to recover after a midweek session. It's been good.  

Jason Ryan oversees training.
Jason Ryan oversees training. Photo credit: Getty Images

"We've had a real focus on tidying areas of our game and getting better at some things that are going well.  

"We're in a good spot heading into the start of our test week."

Foster afforded his troops a couple of days to experience some of the Bordeaux region, bookmarked by a pair of high intensity sessions. The squad heads back to their base in Lyon this weekend, where they'll round out their preparations for the Italians.

The New Zealanders have never failed to progress past pool play in the tournament's history, and that brush is one none of the All Blacks wants to be tarnished with - an attitude that's been reflected in the week's high octane trainings over the past week.

Retallick admits he's seen the team "changing gears", as they draw closer to the decisive end of pool competition, admitting their fate will largely rest on how much his fellow forwards can take another step up. 

"Us going up a level is around the low numbers," he said.  

"The boys have worked hard in that area this week and it's a contest that Italy will be looking forward to, as are we. They're a spirited team, they're really well coached and we're going to have to be right on from the start."

The contingent of the squad working their way back to full health have also cashed in on the All Blacks hiatus. Captain Sam Cane, Jordie Barrett, Tyrel Lomax, and Shannon Frizell have all been regulars on the training paddock and are on track for availability next weekend.

The Italian team they'll face is significantly different that which lined up last time out in Rome two years ago, when the All Blacks cruised to a 47-9 win. The team have made vast strides under Kiwi coach Kieran Crowley and were highly competitive during this year's Six Nations, underoging a seachange in their rugby mindset.

"They've got a very slick attack the way they kind of pop up outside each other and have forwards running down," Retallick noted.  

"We have to be aware there and making good decisions defensively. Also, we need to get our game right in terms of set piece and our ball-carry to nullify that.

"It's not too different to anyone else in terms of how we approach it. But there's a lot riding on the outcome, that's for sure.

"They've shown massive improvement. They've been working hard and last year when they beat the Wallabies, we were all sitting around watching them.  

"It's awesome to see."