All Blacks 96 Italy 17
By Liam Napier in Lyon
A statement and a spectacle. With one foot on Italy’s throat and another in the World Cup quarterfinals, the All Blacks reminded everyone they remain a ruthless beast in full flight.
Three weeks after their opening World Cup defeat, the All Blacks moved from under the radar to a beaming beacon with a statement of intent that suggested a sleeping giant is dormant no more.
Context is always important. Italy are no Ireland, South Africa or France. Sure, Kieran Crowley’s Azzurri have significantly improved in the past two years but history tells us they should not be considered in the All Blacks league.
As expected, Italy’s attacking approach played into the All Blacks hands to allow freedom to flourish throughout.
The All Blacks, though, can only play those in front of them. And on this occasion, they delivered everything that could be asked.
With 14 tries, this crisp and clinical display was the All Blacks’ second largest win over Italy - second only to their 101-3 rout at the 1999 World Cup.
With a brutal blend of physicality and panache, the All Blacks systematically picked Italy apart to leave smashed arancini on the Lyon floor.
Any faint belief Italy had of ending their 44 year, 15 test losing run against the All Blacks was swiftly grated and tossed aside like a generous helping of parmesan.
Will Jordan of New Zealand celebrates his try. Photosport
Nothing is guaranteed at this point, with Italy to face France and the All Blacks to play Uruguay in their final pool matches next week.
This victory, though, all but seals the All Blacks quarterfinal spot by lifting them level with Italy on 10 points. The All Blacks should now safely progress as the second ranked qualifier from Pool B to set up a probable quarterfinal with Ireland.
Seven first half tries - punctuated by Aaron Smith’s hat-trick - compiled a 49-3 half time lead. Such was their dominance the All Blacks banked their four try bonus point by the 23rd minute, while conceding two first half penalties.
Crucially, the All Blacks got their big rocks right with their forward pack setting the tone. They scrummed for multiple penalties. Their lineout was a weapon, with three tries coming off the maul, while pinching five Italy throws.
With ball in hand the All Blacks savoured their desired lightning quick ball on the back of powerful carry and cleans. They hit hard in two-man tackles on defence, too, and then ferociously swarmed the breakdown with Codie Taylor and Jordie Barrett among those claiming turnovers.
Given the breakdown’s importance to the All Blacks game, this was their biggest shift. After waiting two weeks since routing Namibia, the fruits of the fiery Bordeaux camp bloomed.
With endless room to move, and on the counter, the All Blacks were breathless. This was rugby as it is supposed to be played - slick, lethal, sublime.
Sure, every nation plays to their strengths. But when they pounce on mistakes and embrace accurate ball movement like this, there is no better team to witness than the All Blacks.
Aaron Smith celebrates one of his three tries. Photosport
From Ardie Savea busting through feeble defence to Will Jordan’s one handed finish in the corner or Richie Mo’unga and Jordie Barrett combining for Smith’s third try, the All Blacks were a joy to watch.
What a way this was to celebrate Sam Whitelock surpassing Richie McCaw’s record in his 149th test with 31 minutes off the bench.
McCaw, watching from the stands, wasn’t alone in being impressed.
While Italy were poor this performance served to underline the All Blacks are a compelling prospect with their first-choice team available.
Jordie Barrett was at the heart of the first half destruction. Shannon Frizell made a telling impact in his return from a two-month absence. And with Sam Cane and Tryel Lomax to be injected into the starting side and Ethan de Groot to return from suspension - there is improvement to come yet.
The All Blacks bench injected further impact, too, with Dane Coles, Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown claiming tries and Tamaiti Williams enjoying his World Cup debut.
In a tournament such as this, with their next match against Uruguay in six days, the All Blacks will move on swiftly. Internally at least they attempt to not get too high following victories, or too low after losses.
Confidence and momentum are, however, valuable commodities.
History is yesterday’s newspaper, not tomorrow’s, as All Blacks coach Ian Foster suggested this week.
The rugby world is again on notice, though.
Now, the All Blacks must maintain these exemplary standards.
All Blacks 96: Will Jordan 2, Aaron Smith 3, Mark Telea, Ardie Savea 2, Scott Barrett, Dalton Papali’i, Dane Coles 2, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown tries, Richie Mo’unga con 8, McKenzie con
Italy 17: Ange Capuozzo, Montanna Ioane tries, Tommaso Allan pen, con
Liam Napier has been a sports journalist since 2010, and his work has taken him to World Cups in rugby, netball and cricket, boxing world title fights and Commonwealth Games.
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