Hot tournament favourites New Zealand got their World Cup campaign off to the ideal start at the Stade Velodrome here with a scintillating 76-14 rout of Pool C rivals Italy.
The contest was dead and buried after the first 20 breathless minutes, during which the All Blacks scored five converted tries against an Italian team shown up to be woefully inept in their early defensive alignment.
Dominant in all aspects of the game, the All Blacks scored 11 tries in total through Richie McCaw (2), Doug Howlett (3) — who is now joint equal try scorer in All Black history with Christian Cullen on 46 — Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu (2), Chris Jack, Jerry Collins (2), with a further 17 points coming from the boot of Dan Carter and six from Luke McAlister.
Italy, last season’s Six Nations over-achievers after wins over Scotland and Wales, hit back with a Marko Stanojevic intercept try and a late effort from Mirco Bergamasco.
But the Azzurri were no match for the imperious loose-forward triumvirate of McCaw, Collins and Rodney So’oialo, whose ability to turn defence into break-neck attack through their hard-hitting tackles and ball-recycling skills was evident throughout.
The All Blacks, who had posted 272 points past Italy in four previous World Cup encounters, took just over one minute to set the tone and send out a warning to rivals for the William Webb Ellis trophy.
With the Italian defence static and aligned wide, McCaw took a sharp inside pass from outstanding lock Ali Williams from the first line-out and streaked through from 20 metres out and under the posts unopposed.
McCaw crashed over for his second just minutes later after taking a blindside pop from Byron Kelleher.
The Kiwis kept the early onslaught up, Howlett finishing off a scintillating move started by Sivivatu.
And two Carter chips over a struggling Italian defence resulted in tries for Muliaina and Sivivatu to make it 38-0 to the All Blacks after just 20 minutes.
Italy then enjoyed a rare parity in possession and territory for a short while, before Sivivatu got his second after Leon MacDonald had caught the Italian defence napping.
With New Zealand forcing attack, Italy winger Stanojevic pounced on a loose pass by Kelleher for a try converted by Bortolussi to make it 43-7 at halftime.
Italy offered up slightly more resistance early in the second-half, but were soon on the receiving end of a second five-try routing over 20 minutes.
Jack opened the floodgates in the 50th minute. Howlett then completed his hat-trick in quick succession and Collins also scored a brace in two minutes.
Italy centre Mirco Bergamsco grabbed a late opportunist try back for Italy but it was no real consolation for a performance far below that of the All Blacks. – Sapa-AFP