Rugby World Cup: Ian Foster admits surprise at All Blacks' ruthlessness after dominant win over Italy

Even coach Ian Foster struggled to fathom the All Blacks' clinical attack as his side ran in 14 tries to take complete control of their own destiny with a 96-17 Rugby World Cup victory over Italy.

After dropping the opening game of the tournament to hosts France, the All Blacks made no secret of the importance of defeating Italy.

With their backs to the wall and their future hinging on Saturday's (NZ time) result, the All Blacks made a statement that should see the rest of the world sit up and take notice.

In 80 minutes, the All Blacks didn't relent and equalled the 2023 tournament's highest score of 96.

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

But while France also scored that same number against lowly Namibia - who the All Blacks also hit for 71 themselves - Saturday's showing came against Italy, a well-coached team that were expected to cause problems.

Throughout the build-up, Foster and the All Blacks made sure to outline their respect for Italy, they had no other choice. Defeat would have likely meant a first pool stage exit.

Now, though, Foster's men have one foot in the quarterfinals.

Halfback Aaron Smith scored a hat-trick while captain Ardie Savea, wing Will Jordan and replacement hooker Dane Coles all had two each, with the result sealed before halftime.

But despite the nature of the win, Foster asserts the All Blacks never took Italy for granted.

"We have a lot of respect for Italy," said Foster. "I didn't see that game coming, to that extent. I'm not sure too many people did.

"But I'm sure it was probably a combination of us playing pretty well, starting well and I think we took their hope away in that first 20 minutes. 

"Maybe they started to think they've got another bullet to fire against France next week. If they beat France, they knock France out of the competition, if we beat Uruguay.   

"So, there's a few do or die games all over the place."

For all the talk of South Africa and Ireland being the tournament standouts, the All Blacks have also done their bit to keep their name in lights.

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

Barring an upset over Uruguay next week, the All Blacks will cruise into the quarterfinals. Should Italy do the unthinkable and topple France, the All Blacks will finish top of Pool A.

And after fears over the result in Lyon after Italy's own impressive performances in 2023 - notably losing to France by a smaller margin than the All Blacks did - Saturday's result was never assured for Foster.

"It was the performance we wanted this week, that's all I'm going to call it," he added. "I think people created a lot of panic about our chances and all that sort of stuff, and particularly after we lost the first one.

"But the critical game for us in this was always going to be Italy and we had to play well in this game.

"There was enough evidence to show that if we didn't play well and they performed the way they have been performing this year that it was going to be a heck of a tough game.

"We were good enough to take that away from them and so we were very satisfied with that.

"Now we've got to do the same next week, the same applies. If you do your math, next week is also equally important.

"But it certainly means we've put ourselves in control of our own destiny. That's where we want to be."

While attention begins to turn to the quarterfinals, the All Blacks' potential opponents are still to be decided.

Aaron Smith grabbed a hat-trick against Italy.
Aaron Smith grabbed a hat-trick against Italy. Photo credit: Getty Images

The lopsided nature of this year's draw sees the All Blacks guaranteed to face one of Ireland, South Africa or Scotland - all three still to determine their final seedings.

At present, Ireland loom courtesy of leading Pool B, with the All Blacks second in their group.

Whatever way the cat is skinned, the All Blacks can take confidence into the knockouts.

Despite their status as world No.1 and tournament favourites, Ireland have never won a World Cup quarter final.

Meanwhile, even after inflicting a record defeat on the All Blacks before the World Cup, a full-strength side were comfortably beaten by Foster's men at Mt Smart earlier this year.

And if Scotland were to sneak into the quarterfinals to face the All Blacks - they'd have to create history to advance any further, yet to defeat New Zealand in their 32 attempts.

Regardless, Foster said it's still too early to even consider any prospective knockout clash with Uruguay still waiting in the wings.

"I've got no preference of who we play," said Foster. "There's a lot of things that can still happen. We don't spend time thinking about what could happen in two or three weeks.

"I know that's a boring answer but that's the truth. 

"What happens if Scotland go out and play two great games and either South Africa or Ireland aren't there? We don't pin our hopes on wanting something.

"We just want to take it a week at a time, do our job and find out who it is.

"You've just got to look at the draw to know that the quarterfinals are huge. But first we've got to get there. Then we'll worry about who's there."

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