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On November 15, 2009, the much anticipated arrival of the All Blacks in Italy took place not inside the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, home of the Italian XV, but at the world famous San Siro Stadium in Milan, joint residence to the two professional soccer greats, AC Milan and Inter. The reason for the decision to go north – an area traditionally without much national rugby interest – was the confidence that the All Blacks, the premier marquee rugby brand in the world, would fill the stadium with rugby and non-rugby fans. And this proved true, setting an Italian rugby attendance record of 81,018 people that packed the venue to a sell-out crowd.
(The all-time high for rugby attendance occurred in July 2000 in Sydney when the Wallabies hosted the All Blacks in front of a 109,974 people).
The Italian match proved a minor dud as New Zealand slogged to a 20-6 victory over the Italians. NZ coach Graham Henry filled the roster with second stringers, some making their international debuts. And, the Italian forwards rose to the occasion, playing a superior game and helping to keep the score low.
The pre-game publicity was enhanced by constant sports coverage in “La Gazetta dello Sporto,” the main sports newspaper, but also on the pages of leading city papers, and also many features on Italian television.
For the team, which joined the Five-Nations in Championship in 2000, the match was an indicator of the growth of their country-wide fan base, and also the increased interest of rugby. To play the All Blacks at home represented a measure of pride for the nation.