Carter makes a quick impression

New Zealand 70 Italy 7
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The Independent Online

One day the World Cup might be able to dismiss this sort of result as a blip on the radar, as a flukey scoreline between two well-matched teams worthy of facing up to each other. But at the moment the exact opposite is true.

Because as strange as it might seem, it is England - and indeed Australia, France and whoever else has designs on winning this grand competition - who will take heart from New Zealand's 11-try, 70-point demolition of Italy in the opening match of Pool D. And it is not just the knee injury to Tana Umaga, which has almost certainly ended the rampaging centre's World Cup prematurely, or even the hamstring tear of Joe Rokocoko that will bring a wry grin to Clive Woodward's face.

The poor form of the outside-half Carlos Spencer will be an even greater source of satisfaction, as will the resultant juggling in the All Blacks' line-up in their desperation to accommodate a goal-kicker who can actually kick goals. Spencer helped England to their Test win in Wellington in June with his offset boot and yesterday he looked just as profligate before handing the kicking duties to Daniel Carter.

The young inside centre is behind Aaron Mauger in the All Black pecking order, but proved yesterday he can earn his corn as a points-collector with six out of eight successful conversions, albeit in perfect conditions under the Telstra Dome roof. Carter's performance with the ball in hand was pretty sparkling as well, adding his own try to at least three others he helped set up.

In fairness to Spencer, one of his three conversion misses did come after the collision with Umaga that looks like forcing New Zealand to carry on without their vice-captain. "If it's a rupture, the decision needs to be made on an operation," said a grim-faced Robbie Deans, the assistant coach. "If it involves an operation, it will be pretty tragic for Tana."

Otherwise, there were only smiles as the All Blacks reflected on a job that was well done without ever threatening to be scintillating. The Italians tackled themselves and, at times, their opponents to a standstill, but even when they notched up their own much-deserved try in the 51st minute it said so much about the disadvantages they were labouring under - it was scored by their own New Zealander, Matthew Phillips.

The differentials had already been confirmed in a lifeless first-half - not helped by the yawning gaps in the 45,000 crowd - in which New Zealand still managed to earn a bonus point and a 25-0 lead. The captain, Reuben Thorne, followed lock Brad Thorn over for the second try after 15 minutes and when Doug Howlett finished off a full-length counter-attacking special with a 40-metre sprint in the 23rd minute, that was effectively that.

Italy did press on, repelling raid after raid, but Spencer's first of two tries in the 38th minute, and Howlett's second just after the break, made sure that there was only pride left to fight for.

There was also that try-scoring phenomenon called Rokocoko to keep an eye on, and although he did put his left leg in, his right leg out, to leave the Italians waving all about on more than one occasion, when he limped off with 20 minutes remaining - with a hamstring injury that was not thought to be too serious - there was the feeling that Melbourne had not seen the best of him. Still, two more tries, to take his total up to a staggering 13 in eight Tests, must be some consolation.

As ever, there was plenty of that worthless commodity for the vanquished coach, John Kirwan, to take comfort from, but at least the former All Black was quick to point out that Italy's World Cup really begins in Canberra on Wednesday, where he will field a wholly different side against the Tongans.

Meanwhile, next up for New Zealand is an even bigger mismatch against Canada on Friday. A far more potent enemy, however, may be their own complacency that did so much to dislodge them in 1999.

"We were a bit rusty early on, maybe forced things a bit, but that was inevitable," said Deans. "The error rate was far too high - part of getting back into competition. But other elements were really promising." For them and England both.

New Zealand 70 Italy 7
Tries: Howlett 2, Spencer 2, Rokocoko 2, Thorne, Thorn, Marshall, Carter, MacDonald; Try: Phillips
Cons: Carter 6 Con: Peens
Pen: Spencer

Half-time: 25-0 Attendance: 45,000

New Zealand: M Muliaina; D Howlett, T Umaga (M Nonu, 24), D Carter, J Rokocoko (L MacDonald, 69); C Spencer, J Marshall; D Hewett (K Meeuws, 63), K Mealamu (M Hammett, 63), G Somerville, B Thorn, C Jack, R Thorne (capt), J Collins (R So'oialo, 66), R McCaw (M Holah, 65).

Italy: G Peens; Mirco Bergamasco, A Masi, M Barbini, N Mazzucato (G Canale, 65); F Mazzariol, M Mazzantini (A Troncon, 62); S Perugini, C Festuccia (F Ongaro, 75), R Martinez (M Castrogiovanni, 65), C Checchinato (capt), C Bezzi, S Palmer, M Phillips (A Benatti, 62), Mauro Bergamasco (S Parisse, 62).

Referee: A Cole (Australia).

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