New Zealand beat Italy surprisingly easily in their opening Pool C clash in Marseille on Saturday, recording a 76-14 victory in blistering heat.
There was so much hope that Italy would equal, and maybe even surpass, the passion shown by Argentina on Friday. That was until New Zealand totally destroyed them with a near perfect opening twenty-minute salvo.
The only mistake, if it can even be called that, came when the penultimate pass in the sweeping move that led to Doug Howlett going over for his first of three tries, reached Leon MacDonald on the bounce. That aside New Zealand were imperious and, in stunning fashion, shrugged off any suggestions that they make take a little time to get going in France.
It was, in fact, the Azzurri who were slow out of the blocks. It will be of small consolation that they did eventually get going, and when they did they frustrated the All Blacks for concerted periods.
However by that time the game was gone, and so too was their pre-tournament confidence. They will do well to put this annihilation behind them and re-group in time to begin their assault on a quarter-final spot, and on preparation for that match against Scotland.
When they were unable to put the shackles on a rampant All Black side they were exposed with a striking regularity. New Zealand showed hunger in every aspect of their game, from Richie McCaw feverishly working away at the breakdown, to the outside backs chasing Dan Carter's fine array of clever kicks.
It took barely ninety seconds for the opening try, McCaw taking the honours and adding a second just four minutes later. The tries continued to flow as Italy failed to make any impression on the game, aside from giving away needless penalties, which in fairness probably reflected their frustration.
The main concern for Graham Henry, as half-time approached, will be the nature in which his side looked to play too much rugby. As if they needed reminding of the dangers of such a style it came with an intercept try. Marko Stanojevic was the benefactor of a hopeful pass and galloped away to the biggest cheer of the afternoon.
Whatever was said to the Italians at half-time sparked them into life, as for the opening ten minutes of the half they not only contained New Zealand but caused them several problems when on the attack. It did help they had a numerical advantage, Carl Hayman earning the indignity of the tournament's first yellow card. In fairness he was lucky to escape with that having connected cleanly with a punch.
Normal service was soon resumed however with a flurry of tries, two of which brought about a new All Black record. Doug Howlett's second and third tries sent him to the top of the all-time top try-scorers in All Black history, equalling the record held by Christian Cullen.
Having opted against meaningless warm-up games, Graham Henry will be delighted at the manner in which his side went about business. He was even afforded the luxury of utilising his full bench with more than a quarter of the game remaining.
Despite the defeat Pierre Berbizier will be able to take some positives from the game. For one, the Italian set piece was solid, and on occasion their scrum overpowered their counterparts'. But it will be the open play aberrations that will have concerned Berbizier the most.
On countless occasions they allowed New Zealand to offload in the tackle, and more often than not such moves ended in tries. A stark contrast to the Italy we saw in the Six Nations and their warm-up games. Scotland will have had more than an eye on proceedings here.
The fact Mirco Bergamasco managed to score a messy try late on will be of scant consolation for Italy, and you could sense the sighs of relief as Wayne Barnes brought this non-contest to an end.
Man of the match: With such a scoreline it will come as little surprise that this award goes to an All Black, but which one. Dan Carter looked to be nearing his best again, both Ali Williams and Chris Jack were prominent throughout, as too was the entire back row. Yet it was Leon MacDonald, a late addition to the side who set the pulses racing. Solid at the back and electric in attack, his performance was near faultless.
Moment of the match: This came after just ninety seconds when Richie McCaw was offered a clear run to the line. This was to set the tone for the rest of the game as far as Italy and their defence, or lack of, was concerned.
Villain of the match: In a game where attacking rugby was the order of the day this award is shared. Firstly Carl Hayman for his punch on Salvatore Perugini. And then Perugini himself for taking out Ali Williams in the air. No need for either incident.
For New Zealand:
Tries: McCaw 2, Howlett 3, Muliaina, Sivivatu 2, Jack, Collins 2
Cons: Carter 7, McAlister 2
Try: Stanojevic, Mirco Bergamasco
Con: Bortolussi, De Marigny
Yellow cards: Hayman (New Zealand, 42, punching), Perugini (Italy, 62, taking out the player in the air)
New Zealand (revised): 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Mils Muliaina, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Byron Kelleher, 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Chris Jack ,3 Carl Hayman 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Anton Oliver, 17 Neemia Tialata, 18 Chris Masoe, 19 Sione Lauaki, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Aaron Mauger, 22 Isaia Toeava.
Italy: 15 David Bortolussi. 14 Kaine Robertson, 13 Andrea Masi, 12 Mirco Bergamasco, 11 Marko Stanojevic, 10 Roland de Marigny, 9 Alessandro Troncon, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Marco Bortolami (c), 4 Santiago Dellapè, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Fabio Ongaro, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 18 Valerio Bernabò, 19 Manoa Vosawai, 20 Paul Griffen, 21 Gonzalo Canale, 22 Ezio Galon.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Touch judges: Christophe Berdos (France), Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Television match official: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assessor: Ian Scotney (Australia)
By Marcus Leach