Saturday, September 30, 2023
In a rugby spectacle that left no room for doubt, New Zealand's All Blacks sent a resounding message with a commanding 96-17 victory over Italy in Pool A at the Rugby World Cup.
The match, held at the OL Stadium, saw the three-time champions score an astonishing 14 tries, firmly establishing their pursuit of a spot in the quarter-finals.
New Zealand exhibited clinical precision, completely dismissing any notion that a revamped Italy side could thwart their campaign with a surprise win. The victory marked the 16th consecutive triumph for the All Blacks against Italy.
Scrumhalf Aaron Smith shone in the first half, securing a remarkable hat-trick. Number eight Ardie Savea was an unrelenting force on the field, adding his team's seventh try before halftime and securing the bonus point with a try in the 22nd minute.
Remarkably, New Zealand displayed an absence of the ill-discipline that had marred their warm-up loss to South Africa and their initial two matches in France, including a 27-13 defeat against the tournament hosts and an 11-try rout of Namibia.
"We wanted to come out and make a statement. We wanted to dominate up front. Our forwards had the platform and the backs finished it off," commented Savea. He expressed pride in his team's performance and their ability to play free-flowing rugby.
This emphatic victory catapulted New Zealand into second place in Pool A, accumulating 10 crucial points. They now trail group leaders France by a mere three points. France is set to face Italy next Friday, while the All Blacks will take on Uruguay the day before.
The All Blacks' scoring spree commenced early, with Will Jordan scoring in the sixth minute following Jordie Barrett's precise crosskick. Mark Talea, another winger, contributed to the lead with a try after a dynamic run by Savea from midfield.
Italy, despite being significantly behind at 49-3, showcased renewed determination in the second half. Ange Capuozzo scored their first try against the All Blacks since 2016, injecting a glimmer of hope.
The match also witnessed a historic moment as Sam Whitelock, in his 149th test appearance, surpassed Richie McCaw as the most-capped All Black of all time. Brodie Retallick swiftly followed, adding New Zealand's eighth try.
Flanker Dalton Papali'i, replacement hooker Dane Coles, and Damian McKenzie made significant contributions, scoring tries for the All Blacks. Replacement center Anton Leinart-Brown sealed the victory with the 14th try, as New Zealand edged closer to the 101 points they scored against Italy at the 1999 World Cup.
McKenzie assumed kicking duties from Richie Mou'nga, converting all four attempts. Italy, despite the overwhelming defeat, displayed pride and tenacity, concluding the match with a try by winger Monty Ioane.
"It was like a training run for them," noted Italy coach Kieran Crowley, acknowledging the formidable performance of the All Blacks.
The resounding victory solidified New Zealand's stature as a formidable contender in the Rugby World Cup.