Rugby World Cup: Aaron Smith hat-trick gives All Blacks one foot in quarter-finals in dominant victory over Italy

The All Blacks have one foot in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup, after handing Italy a lesson with a 96-17 victory at Lyon's OL Stadium.

After starting the year with wins over Argentina and South Africa built on starting fast and strong, the All Blacks rediscovered top gear, and put Italy to the sword in a clash that ended any worries over Ian Foster's side's title credentials. 

Fresh from a two-week break after a convincing victory over Namibia, a close to full strength All Blacks side ran in 14 tries - seven in each half - to secure a vital bonus point victory.

Aaron Smith made a statement amid young gun Cam Roigard challenging for the role of first-choice halfback, scoring a hat-trick of tries in the first-half.

Aaron Smith scores against Italy.
Aaron Smith scores against Italy. Photo credit: Getty Images

Meanwhile, the returning pair of Shannon Frizell and Jordie Barrett showed exactly what the All Blacks had missed to start the World Cup, as both made emphatic statements over their places as first-team regulars.  

The win takes the All Blacks' points tally to 10, and sees Ian Foster's men overtake the Azzurri into second spot in Pool A on points differential.  

Now, only an unfathomable loss to Uruguay next week stands between New Zealand and the knockouts, as Ireland loom in a likely quarter-final match-up next month.  

In a fast start that saw both teams look to make use of ball in hand, the All Blacks opened the scoring in the seventh minute.

Playing under advantage, a Jordie Barrett crossfield kick found Will Jordan unmarked on the right wing, where a Dallin Watene-Zelezniak-style finish gave the All Blacks a 7-0 lead.

Italy got themselves on the scoreboard through the boot of fullback Tommaso Allan and were rewarded again when Beauden Barrett kicked out on the full from the restart.

But the All Blacks forwards made sure to make any advantage count, as a lineout drive resulted in Aaron Smith going over for the second, before Mark Telea added a third just seconds later.  

As Ardie Savea broke from inside the All Blacks' half, a jinking run from Beauden Barrett saw the bull spun wide, where Telea finished by holding off five defenders to score his third try of the tournament.  

Savea secured the bonus point after 20 minutes, as a lineout set piece saw him race through from first receiver, leaving Italy with no answer.  

Smith had a second in the opening spell, as another lineout drive saw Codie Taylor put his halfback away on the right, and completed his hat-trick before the half-hour mark when Jordie Barrett sent him through under the posts.

Italy looked to have stemmed the tide towards the end of the first half, but Savea had the final say of the opening 40, and had his second from another lineout drive to send the All Blacks into halftime with a 49-3 advantage.

Will Jordan scores against Italy.
Will Jordan scores against Italy. Photo credit: Getty Images

Unchanged immediately after the break, the All Blacks' discipline was tested by the Azzurri, and gave away three penalties in the opening five minutes.  

And Italy's possession advantage was eventually converted into points, when winger Ange Capuzzo produced a diving finish into the right corner, matching Jordan for theatrics.  

As the All Blacks went to the bench, Sam Whitelock's introduction saw him overtake Richie McCaw as New Zealand's most-capped player in his 149th test, before long-term locking partner Brodie Retallick benefitted from a Scott Barrett charge down to score the eighth try of the night.

An overthrown Italian lineout straight to Codie Taylor resulted in the All Blacks' ninth try, as Telea sent Dalton Papali'i in to score another, and took the score past 60 before he made way for Sam Cane, returning from a back injury suffered before the tournament-opening loss to France. 

Fellow substitute Dane Coles scored the tenth, combining with Cane from another set-piece, as the 36-year-old hooker wound back the clock by running down the left wing to dot down in the corner. 

The only negative from Coles' score came in the form of Mo'unga missing his first kick of the night, on an otherwise flawless night with the boot before he was replaced by Damian McKenzie - who scored the 11th try and converted it for good measure. 

A kick over the top from Jordan looked to set Savea up for a hat-trick, only to get the ball back from his captain and become the third player to score a second try. 

With a try scored on the left wing, Coles added another on the right in the final 10 minutes, as a tiring Italian outfit collapsed under the sustained attacking pressure. 

Another set-piece resulted in the 14th try, as Roigard raced, and freed Anton Lienert-Brown to take the score to 96-10, and put the All Blacks within touching distance of a rare century.

But as the All Blacks poured forwards in search of a century, Italy scored a consolation effort to put a full-stop on the night, as winger Monty Ioane produced a perfect finish in the left corner.

Regardless, the 96 points scored sees the All Blacks equal the best-attacking display of the tournament so far, level with France's victory over Namibia last week. 

The All Blacks will round out pool play at the same venue in just six days' time, up against Uruguay to seal their place in the last eight.

Italy, meanwhile, will likely have to wait until 2027 at the earliest to seal a quarter-final berth for the first time, now needing to convincingly beat hosts France if they're to reach the knockouts.

All Blacks 96 (Jordan 2, Smith 3, Telea, Savea 2, Retallick, Papali'I, Coles 2, McKenzie, Lienert-Brown tries; Mo'unga 9, McKenzie 4 conversions)  
Italy 17 (Capuzzo, Ioane tries; Allan, Garbisi conversions; Allan penalty)  

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