Rugby World Cup: All Blacks acknowledge clash against Italy now 'do or die' with tournament hopes on line

It's do or die.  

That's the All Blacks' assessment of next week's Rugby World Cup clash against Italy at Lyon, with no room for coach Ian Foster's men to slip up.  

After a historic defeat to France in the tournament opener - the All Blacks' first loss in the pool stage of a World Cup - one more loss would mean an inconceivable early exit.  

Italy's two bonus-point wins had seen them top Pool A after their opening matches and if the Azzurri defeat the All Blacks next Friday, New Zealand could not qualify for the quarter-finals.

The All Blacks after defeat to France.
The All Blacks after defeat to France. Photo credit: Photosport

The All Blacks were always assured of victory over Namibia and will almost certainly overcome Uruguay without any major struggle. That leaves the clash against Italy on September 30 circled as the fixture to decide their fate.  

As halfback Aaron Smith explains, no stone will be left unturned before next Friday's clash.   

"We're looking at Italy as a playoff game," he said. "It's do or die for us, that's how we've got to treat it.  

"This week's about learning as much as we can about them, getting our game and the things we can control in a spot, and also getting our body and mind fresh and ready to go for hopefully a long run.  

"You can feel it already in the team and the energy around what's coming next Friday, and wanting to be in the team that gets that opportunity.  I've been to a couple of World Cups, it's all about that - wanting to be in the big games, wanting to do the job for the team in the big games.  

"Yes, we're in Bordeaux, but there's genuine care in getting your body and mind right, but also getting your homework done, looking at them, learning your opposition.

"As I said, it's a playoff game next Friday."  

While Italy have impressed in 2022 - losing to France by a more respectable margin during the Six Nations than the All Blacks did at the World Cup - history will be against the Azzurri, coached by Kiwi Kieran Crowley.  

The All Blacks have won all 15 of their previous meetings. In fact, Italy's best result against the All Blacks came at the 2019 World Cup - and that was split points in poolplay, after Typhoon Hagibis saw the scheduled fixture abandoned.  

This year, the All Blacks can't afford to slip up. They are currently in the middle of a week off in Bordeaux, before heading to Lyon to face Italy.  

They will conclude poolplay at the same venue against Uruguay on October 6.