Rugby World Cup: Hat-trick hero Aaron Smith keeping All Blacks' feet on the ground after statement win over Italy

Hat-trick hero Aaron Smith is quashing any notion the best of the All Blacks has been seen after a devastating 96-17 victory over Italy.   

Refreshed by a week off and with the spotlight on Ireland and South Africa as tournament favourites, the All Blacks did their talking on the pitch.   

In 80 unrelenting minutes, the All Blacks scored 14 tries - seven in each half - to put themselves one win away from a quarter-final spot.   

That win can - and should - come against Uruguay on Friday, with the All Blacks even able to snatch the top spot in Pool A should France trip up against the Azzurri. 

The All Blacks celebrate.
The All Blacks celebrate. Photo credit: Photosport

But despite racking up the equal highest score of the tournament, so far, the All Blacks aren't looking any further ahead.    

Defeating Italy will mean nothing should Ian Foster's men stumble against Uruguay themselves, with the ignominy of defeat still leaving a mathematical chance at an early exit.   

And for Smith, who crossed the line thrice in the opening 40 minutes, there is still plenty to work on for the All Blacks as they head deeper into the tournament.    

"We're just building," said Smith. "We've had two weeks to prepare for that game, you could tell with the nervous tension and energy how much we wanted it. 

"There's still patches in that game we want to get better at - Italy put us under a lot of pressure on their phase play attack at times there.   

"We scrambled well but we're also able to pressure them, cause them [into] a lot of skill errors. We were pretty dangerous on the break.   

"We've got to take the [lessons] and prepare for Uruguay - another exciting challenge." 

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

Regardless of whether or not there's more to come, Saturday's (NZ time) win was still the exact statement the All Blacks needed to make.    

Any notion the tournament would see a South Africa v Ireland final will now take a back seat, with one of them now having to face the All Blacks in a quarter final.   

And with that clash still to be decided, Smith asserts the All Blacks can't look any farther than Uruguay at the same venue next week.   

"We've still got to be humble about it. We had two weeks to get ready for a game, we've got another tough challenge coming up," he said. "We've just got to take it one step at a time, one day at a time. We can't get ahead of ourselves.   

"I'm excited to be in the All Blacks, be at a World Cup. We've got a good mix at the moment, a balance of working hard and connecting and enjoying the moment.   

"It was good to get out there. Having a week off was a bit weird. But it showed tonight, the energy, freshness and intent were there.   

"We've got another week together to be better."   

Meanwhile, Smith was also quick to deflect any personal credit to come his way. 

Already the All Blacks' most-capped back, his three tries represented a career first, with his maiden test treble notched as he prepares to bid farewell to the black jersey at the end of this year.   

But, as he's done for what feels like the entirety of his career, Smith is quick to deflect any praise coming his way.   

"I'm very lucky and very grateful," he said of his hat-trick. "It was all on the back of forwards' work.    

"[It was] just hugely dominant from our forward pack tonight and to play behind that, be able to put teams under pressure, win penalties and kick to the corner, we're pretty dangerous in the 22 if we nail our detail.   

"The forwards' maul tonight was devastating."   

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