The All Blacks scrum-half had already picked up three tries by the 34th minute
When Aaron Smith scores a first-half hat-trick in 17 minutes you know you are in trouble, and that’s exactly the position Italy found themselves in. Smith’s first score, off the back of a rampaging maul, came after 17 minutes. He added another ten minutes later in similar fashion before diving under the posts for his third in the 34th minute.
In truth it was all too easy for a rampant New Zealand, perhaps with a point to prove after slipping under the radar at this Rugby World Cup having lost the opening game to France, their first-ever pool defeat.
Watch Aaron Smith hat-trick moment
Friday night’s clash under the Lyon lights was billed as a must win for Ian Foster’s men, who came into the fixture down in third in Pool A. They answered that in fine style, securing the try bonus point after just 22 minutes.
Richie Mo’unga’s metronomic boot ruthlessly put the Italians to the sword, nailing all seven first-half conversions. Yes, they scored seven first-half tries. Will Jordan’s acrobatic score had got the game off to a flyer.
But a Tommaso Allan penalty got Italy a foothold at 7-3 ten minutes into the contest. However, things spiralled out of control for Kiwi Kieran Crowley’s Azzurri when three tries in five minutes saw the All Blacks steamroll their bewildered opposition.
Read more: All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad
Smith’s first was swiftly followed by Mark Telea’s on the left wing and then captain Ardie Savea was the next to receive what lamentably looked like a free ticket to the tryline at points.
Italy wilted as Smith completed his hat-trick and Savea got his second in the 45th minute. Five extra minutes was the last thing Italy needed. It was a first-half flogging that finished at 49-3. The seventh biggest Rugby World Cup lead at the break ever (credit Russ Petty).
Perhaps we should have seen it coming. Forget about the Typhoon cancelled 0-0 result from 2019. The All Blacks brought up a century in 1999 against Italy and in the very first World Cup game in 1987 won 70-6, then a points record.
New Zealand’s average victory margin against Italy is 48 points in the 15 wins they’d enjoyed before this one and were already 46 to the good with half the game still to go. Even South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus felt compelled to share his view on such a clinical display, writing on X/Twitter: “Crisp and clinical.” That it certainly was.