England's form suggests nothing more than an outside chance of meeting New Zealand in the knockout rounds of the World Cup, but the All Blacks got a dig in anyway at the waning, reigning champions after a weekend of contrasting opening matches. "We don't talk about other teams, although as you know they like to talk about us," said Wayne Smith, the All Blacks' backs coach, yesterday. "Rob Andrew was making pretty strong statements about us a while ago. He should take a look at his own backyard."
Andrew, the Rugby Football Union's elite rugby director, had rallied his team at a public send-off dinner in London by recalling New Zealand's shaky record in the later stages of World Cups, and made similar comments to the BBC. It would be the semi-final at the earliest that the two teams might meet, and at this early stage the All Blacks look pretty damned good.
The tournament favour-ites scored 11 tries against Italy here in Marseilles, including five in a quite astonishing opening 20 minutes, and dispatched one of the best teams in Europe with swaggering ease. Next they take on one of the worst in the shape of Portugal, in Lyons on Saturday.
Smith, fondly remembered in Northampton for his coaching stint there, went only part of the way to saying his side would go easy on the part-timers.
"Clearly there's going to be a huge gulf in class," said Smith, taking over a media conference from the forwards coach, Steve Hansen, who had returned home to Christchurch to be with his ill mother. "We'll discuss what we will do up front. You don't want to be stupid and you don't want to humiliate anyone. Hopefully, that won't be the case, and it'll be a contest the people can enjoy and the players can enjoy. There'll be some sensitivity but we've got to be aware of keeping our standards high. You can't disrespect the other team."
Asked if it would be an awkward situation for his side, Smith replied: "Probably not as awkward as for Portugal."
The All Blacks, reasonably enough, feel Portugal's woes are someone else's problem; the organisers of the Rugby World Cup, for instance, who deem it acceptable to throw amateurs in with professionals. "A safety issue?" said Ali Williams, the lock who ran and handled against Italy like an elongated Dan Carter. "I haven't heard that before. We play rugby for the physicality of it."
Fabio Ongaro, the Italy hooker, dislocated a finger, but some fear much worse for the Portuguese. "Their scrum is OK," said Ongaro, who played against Portugal in a World Cup qualifier, "but I wouldn't want to be them this weekend."
Doug Howlett scored three tries to equal Chris Cullen's New Zealand record of 46, and captain Richie McCaw contributed two to the blistering start. "I likened it to 15 cans of Coke, all fizzed up and opened at the same time," said Smith. They certainly burst Italy's bubble in their who-cares-about-the-haka huddle, but the Azzurri should find Romania a more lip-smacking prospect here on Wednesday.
New Zealand: L MacDonald (Canterbury); D Howlett (Auckland), M Muliaina (Waikato), L McAlister (North Harbour), S Sivivatu (Otago); D Carter (Canterbury), B Kelleher (Waikato); T Woodcock (North Harbour), K Mealamu (Auckland), C Hayman (Otago), C Jack (Tasman), A Williams (Auckland), J Collins (Wellington), R McCaw (Canterbury, capt), R So'oialo (Wellington). Replacements: N Tialata (Wellington) for Collins, 46-52; A Oliver (Otago) for Mealamu, 51; B Leonard (Waikato) for Kelleher, 51; I Toeava (Auckland) for Muliaina, 51; S Lauaki (Waikato) for Williams, 54; Tialata for Woodcock, 54; A Mauger (Canterbury) for Carter, 60; C Masoe (Wellington) for McCaw, 60.
Italy: D Bortolussi (Montpellier); K Robertson (Viadana), A Masi (Biarritz), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Français), M Stanojevic (Bristol); R de Marigny (Calvisano), A Troncon (Clermont); S Perugini (Toulouse), F Ongaro (Saracens), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), S Dellape (Biarritz), M Bortolami (Gloucester, capt), A Zanni (Calvisano), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Français), S Parisse (Stade Français). Replacements: A lo Cicero (L'Aquila) for Perugini, 40; M Vosawai (Overmach Parma) for Zanni, 41; C Festuccia (Treviso) for Ongaro, 53; Perugini for Castrogiovanni, 53; P Griffen (Calvisano) for Troncon, 66; E Galon (Overmach Parma) for Bortolussi, 66.
Referee: W Barnes (England).Reuse content