All Blacks, Wallabies in a different class

New Zealand and Australia scored a combined total of 167 points and 24 tries as the southern hemisphere giants ruthlessly exposed the huge gap in international rugby at the World Cup on Saturday.

The All Blacks swept aside Italy, who had beaten both Wales and Scotland in the Six Nations this year, 76-14 while Australia crushed Japan 91-3 in embarrassingly one-sided encounters which contrasted sharply with Argentina’s breathtaking win over hosts France in Friday’s opening match.

Defending champions England did little for northern hemisphere honour as they struggled to a 28-10 win over the United States in Lens.

The New Zealanders, who ran in 11 tries in Marseille, were 38-0 in front after just 20 minutes.

”I am very pleased. We played some good rugby in the first 20 minutes despite the heat. We have no injuries, so it’s ideal,” said coach Graham Henry.

The contest was over after that first breathless quarter, during which the All Blacks scored five converted tries.

An Italian interception try just before halftime was followed by another handful of All Black tries in the second period before the Azzurri claimed a final consolation touchdown.

”We played very well and chose the right options. The players and the team in general made great decisions,” said Henry.

Winger Doug Howlett scored a hat-trick to take him level with Christian Cullen at the top of the All Blacks try-scorers’ list with 46.

In Lyon, flanker Rocky Elsom scored a hat-trick of tries as Australia handed out a 91-3 mauling to Japan.

The Wallabies scored 13 tries, 10 conversions and two penalty goals to Japan’s lone penalty.

Elsom proved a handful while fullback Chris Latham, back from a serious knee injury and replacement Berrick Barnes — the youngest member of the squad — scored two each.

The win was also the ideal tonic for their key Pool B game against Wales in Cardiff next Saturday.

”We hadn’t played for a couple of months and in the first half we were a little rusty but when Japan tired we took advantage of it and we’re satisfied with the performance,” coach John Connolly said.

Australia’s joy was tempered, however, with back Mark Gerrard picking up a serious knee injury which looks likely to end his tournament prematurely.

Japan captain Takamichi Sasaki also suffered a knee injury which could end his tournament.

Reigning champions England looked distinctly undercooked in Lens.

It was only when the Americans were reduced to 14 men towards the end of the first half that Jason Robinson — who scored England’s last World Cup try in the 2003 final — and Olly Barkley crossed the line.

Barkley, playing in place of the injured Jonny Wilkinson at outside-half, also kicked 13 points in a morale-boosting display ahead of Friday’s crunch game against South Africa in Paris.

The Eagles deservedly had the final say thanks to a 74th minute try from replacement forward Matekitonga Moeakiola, which captain Mike Hercus converted, after England number eight Lawrence Dallaglio had been sin-binned.

”It was a less than satisfactory performance,” admitted England coach Brian Ashton.

Meanwhile, the fallout from France’s shock defeat continued.

Veteran lock Fabien Pelous said his team will bounce back and still reach the last eight although they might have to defeat Ireland to do so.

”We have worked on this game, we believe in it and we will continue to play it,” said Pelous. – Sapa-AFP

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