Rugby World Cup: Dane Coles keeping All Blacks' feet on the ground despite huge victory over Italy

Even off the back of one of the biggest wins of the Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks aren't letting success distract them from their ultimate goal in France.

After dropping the tournament opener against their hosts, and watching Ireland and South Africa cement themselves as the teams to beat in a scintillating poolstage match, coach Ian Foster's side needed to make a statement against Italy at Lyon.

With a 96-17 victory, they did just that, but if the team were content with flying in the shadow of their rivals, the All Blacks can't play underdogs anymore.

Aaron Smith scored a hat-trick in the All Blacks' win over Italy.
Aaron Smith scored a hat-trick in the All Blacks' win over Italy. Photo credit: Getty Images

The win saw them replicate the pace and power displayed to start 2023, when they swept the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup. While losses to South Africa at Twickenham and France at Paris may have dented Kiwi confidence, the latest display will have fired a warning to those in their way.

Their most experienced players are doing their bit to downplay any sense the All Blacks have arrived as title favourites.

Hat-trick hero Aaron Smith and lock Sam Whitelock - who made history by passing Richie McCaw as the most-capped All Black - were at pains to keep feet on the ground after the win.

Veteran hooker Dane Coles, who came off the bench to score twice, insists the All Blacks' huge victory means nothing, if they can't seal a quarter-final place by beating Uruguay on Friday.

"It's a step in the right direction, but we haven't achieved anything yet," said Coles. "We had two weeks to prepare for this game.

"We're not getting carried away. We've got a short turnaround.

"We can be pretty proud of the way we stuck at it, we were really disciplined and did the simple things really well. We'll keep our feet on the ground and get stuck into Uruguay next week."

This week, the All Blacks' preparation will be a stark contrast to the build-up for Italy.

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

After beating Namibia 71-3, Foster's men enjoyed a week without a test match, but didn't let their preparation or their standards slip. If the result against Italy was down to the 14-day break, they'll have only six to prepare for their pool stage finale.

Coles, who has learned a bit in his 88 tests, thinks less time to prepare will only sharpen focus for what's to come at the same venue.

"I reckon it's good," he quipped. "Short turnarounds are better.

"[We'll have] a day off today to decompress and then we're into our work tomorrow.

"That'll be good. Regardless of what the team's going to be, the group is really energised to keep playing.

"We're in a good spot. There's no mucking around, you can go in and get your prep done."

Uruguay won't be easybeats. The South Americans have already notched one victory over Namibia at this tournament, and troubled both France and Italy to sit fourth in the pool.

While their own hopes of reaching the quarter-finals are done, they can still have a huge impact on which two teams progress to the last eight.

Should they get a result against the All Blacks, both France and Italy can qualify ahead of the three-time champions, and condemn New Zealand - like Australia - to a first poolstage exit. Coles knows what to expect.

"They've shown a lot of teams, they've got a lot of character," he said. "We'll give them the respect they deserve and get into our prep.

"See you on Thursday night."

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