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All Blacks score 14 tries in 96-17 win over Italy

Scrumhalf Aaron Smith scored three of New Zealand’s seven first-half tries as it overwhelmed Italy 96-17 in a pivotal pool match at the Rugby World Cup on Friday.

Smith completed his first test hat trick in an 18-minute period in the middle of the first spell in which New Zealand scored and converted five tries on its way to a 49-3 lead by halftime. It finished with 14 tries, adding seven more in the second half.

Italy scored two tries, including the last of the match to Monty Ioane in stoppage time.

The match was seen as likely deciding which of the two teams will join host France in advancing to the quarterfinals from Pool A. Both now have 2-1 records but New Zealand already has played France, and Italy has yet to do so.

Italy came into the match in good form after wins over Namibia and Uruguay while the All Blacks were 1-1 after losing to France and beating Namibia 71-3. New Zealand also hadn’t played for almost two weeks after the win over Namibia and was bringing back four key players who hadn’t appeared at the Rugby World Cup so far while recovering from injuries.

Many of New Zealand’s 14 tries came from lineouts as the All Blacks asserted themselves at set-pieces and monopolized possession, conceding only two penalties before halftime.

Winger Will Jordan scored New Zealand’s first try after six minutes, catching an accurate cross-kick from center Jordie Barrett outside his marker and taking the corner flag as he dived over. Italy quickly replied with a penalty to Tommaso Allan as the match seemed close at first.

But the All Blacks scored five tries from the 16th to the 34th minutes, all converted by flyhalf Richie Mo’unga who was flawless in the first half with seven goals from seven attempts. He finished with nine out of 10 and his replacement Damian McKenzie added four out of four conversions.

Smith’s first came in the 16th minute when he tacked onto a driving maul from a lineout and took the smuggled ball to score.

Wing Mark Telea carried four defenders over the line in a spectacular show of strength in the 19th after a breakout from New Zealand’s 22 by captain Ardie Savea, who scored two tries in the first half. His first inevitably came from a lineout in the 22nd as Shannon Frizell took the ball off the top of the throw and dropped it into Savea’s hands as he stormed around the back of the line.

Smith scored again in the 27th from a lineout drive as hooker Codie Taylor detached and passed to him on the right-hand side. He had his third in the 34th at the end of a counterattack started by Jordon. Mo’unga dummied and fired a short pass to Jordie Barrett who broke the line and linked with Smith.

New Zealand’s discipline broke down a little at the start of the second half. It conceded three quick penalties that led to lineouts and, from the third, Italy swept the ball wide with quick passes to winger Ange Capuozzo who dived over in the corner with four All Blacks dashing across in cover defense.

Smith was replaced in the 49th and, at the same time, lock Sam Whitelock took the field for his 149th test, breaking Richie McCaw’s record of test caps for New Zealand. McCaw was among the crowd to see his record broken.

Whitelock immediately had a hand in a try to his locking partner Brodie Retallick from a charged-down clearance. Then back-rower Dalton Papali’i scored New Zealand’s ninth try after Telea made a strong run from an over-thrown lineout.

Replacement hooker Dane Coles scored the 10th, again from a lineout. From the clean take, Sam Cane scooted around the front and linked with Coles and, while Mo’unga missed his first conversion, New Zealand led 61-10.

The Italy defense was stretched beyond its limits and tries continued to flow, to flyhalf Damian McKenzie shortly after he joined from the bench, a second to Jordan taking the score past 80 points, a quick double for Coles, and the last to Anton Lienert-Brown.

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