New Zealand v Italy: Five takeaways from the Rugby World Cup clash as All Blacks reinstate title credentials

Planet Rugby
All Blacks flanker Dalton Papali'i celebrates with teammate Mark Telea, after scoring a try during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match.

All Blacks flanker Dalton Papali'i celebrates with teammate Mark Telea, after scoring a try during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match.

Following the All Blacks’ 96-0 hammering of Italy, here are our five takeaways from the Rugby World Cup game in Lyon on Friday.

Demolition job from All Blacks

From minute one, the All Blacks looked on their work as they set about pulling apart this Azzurri team with a ruthlessly slick edge that was something to behold.

Seven tries in the first 40 minutes was a staggering return, and they did not take their foot off the gas in the second, doubling their tally to a  remarkable 14 tries.

What was noticeable from the outset was New Zealand‘s determination to build their score, with little celebration over tries as they got right back to business.

Quite simply, it was a brutal dismantling of a shell-shocked Italy outfit, whose heads had gone early in the game, and the All Blacks promptly filled their boots.

Returning duo back with a bang

There’s just greater balance, power and threat to this All Blacks side with Shannon Frizell and Jordie Barrett in situ, as both returned to the team on Friday.

Frizell was rock solid at the lineout, a formidable carrier and strong defensively, as his presence yet again made New Zealand’s pack a more complete unit.

The same can be said of Barrett, whose perfectly weighted cross-kick to Will Jordan on six minutes got the ball rolling, and he did not look back from there. He’s such a handful in contact and combines that with superb distribution and that aforementioned kicking option, which caused the Azzurri no end of problems.

Put simply, the All Blacks need this pair starting in their quarter-final and possibly beyond if they are to make it a fourth Rugby World Cup title on October 28.

All Blacks reinstate title credentials

14 days ago, New Zealand smashed Namibia 71-3, bouncing back convincingly from their opening game defeat to France that will have stung the whole squad.

Since then, Les Bleus, Ireland, and South Africa have dominated the headlines and favourites talk, but once again, New Zealand have entered the conversation.

There was plenty of chat from the Italy squad, pundits and fans that this may just be the Azzurri’s chance to defeat the All Blacks for the first time ever. But that chatter quickly died down as New Zealand raced through for five tries from five entries into Italy’s 22 in the opening 26 minutes in a cakewalk at OL Stadium.

By half-time, the scoreline read New Zealand 49-3 Italy. Seven tries, seven conversions that included a first-ever Test hat-trick for scrum-half Aaron Smith.

Jason Ryan had called for the All Blacks to go up a gear, and boy did they, with Sam Whitelock’s milestone match celebrated in style with this 14-try result.

Fragile Italy implode

We thought that the United States in golf’s Ryder Cup – which is being hosted in Rome – would be the worst team Italians would see today, but evidently not. As soon as the second try was scored, the Azzurri completely went mentally.

Granted, as we’ve already explained, the three-time world champions were magnificent, but this was embarrassingly poor from the Italians, who quite simply lacked leadership. Individuals kept going off script and making bad decisions, allowing the All Blacks’ playmakers to pick off the defenders and find the gaps.

Italy are a young team with plenty of talent, but they are far too flimsy when it starts going wrong. It is something Gonzalo Quesada will need to instil when he takes over from Kieran Crowley after the World Cup.

A glimmer of hope for Italy

It would take some doing based on the performance in Lyon, but Italy still have a chance of getting out of the group.

They would need to defeat France and deny the World Cup hosts a single pool point to do so.

It would be a monumental turn of fortunes going from an 81-point deficit against the team that Les Bleus beat in the opening game, but simply defeating Wales in the Six Nations last year seemed a tall order, too.

As for the All Blacks, Ian Foster’s men have a six-day turnaround before they face the passionate Uruguay side who pushed France and Italy close before almost bottling it against Namibia.

It should be a straightforward bonus-point victory for the men in black, who then await a possible quarter-final against Ireland, a team they will be eager to exact revenge on.

It’s been far from plain sailing for the All Blacks, but tonight’s performance was an emphatic statement against a fellow tier-one outfit and one that Ireland will have taken note of.

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