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The All Blacks' first choice 23 makes a big difference but Ireland won't care

By Ben Smith
Jordie Barrett of New Zealand runs with the ball during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between New Zealand and Italy at Groupama Stadium on September 29, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images)

They were beaten by the better side in their opening pool game against France, but there is no doubt that at full strength the All Blacks are a much better unit.


With a handful of starters returning to the line-up who missed France, notably Jordie Barrett, Shannon Frizell, and Brodie Retallick, who came off the bench in Paris, the All Blacks put forward a clinical showing in the 96-point demolition.

While Italy’s defence is not comparable to that of Ireland or France, they could not deal with the precision and speed of the All Blacks.

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The maul was used to bag the second try through Aaron Smith but then was often a guise to confuse the Italian forwards, with the fringes of the maul on either side targetted frequently with a variety of peels and wrap plays.

Ardie Savea was offered ball directly off the top by Frizell on one occasion. Italy’s guard, openside Michele Lamaro, could not sight the ball and fell for the fake maul, committing to attach for the counter shove.

That split second decision gave Savea a free lane to come around the corner and run through hooker Giacomo Nicotera defending in the 10 channel.

Savea is a former schoolboy centre who can probably explode through the first 10 metres in an estimated 1.5-1.6 seconds. The half-second hesitation by Lamaro was the difference.


Aaron Smith hit the blindside maul defence the next time around, dummying inside two sliding defenders to score his double after Taylor peeled off the back down the short channel.

His third came from a beautiful line by Jordie Barrett running off Richie Mo’unga’s shoulder off a pod screen. The second five-eighth came from a long way to link with Mo’unga and a clever delay of hand by the No 10 put the hard-running Barrett through.

It was Jordie Barrett’s second assist of the night after a stabbing kick pass was used in the 6th minute to provide for Will Jordan.

Another maul try came for Savea’s second, breaking off the back from a metre out to crash over.


Ball Carries
Post Contact Metres
Line Breaks

That was just the first half. In the second, the All Blacks executed their counter-attack skills by pouncing on Italian errors.


A Scott Barrett charge down led to a Retallick try. An overthrow led to Dalton Papalii’s five pointer. Will Jordan and Ardie Savea combined for a brilliant try after a ruck turnover.

And the set-piece strikes continued to rain down points on Italy.

Dane Coles had a scamper from another maul paul down the blind side. Damian McKenzie burst through a wrap play from a midfield scrum. Cam Roigard exploded inside Coles another maul variation before setting up Anton Lienert-Brown.

Italy head coach Kieran Crowley was right in his assessment that it was a “glorified training run” as the set plays were working with such a success rate as if they were an unopposed walkthrough.

Ruck Speed

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Rucks Won

The All Blacks had done their homework and looked to target Italy’s maul defence. Captain Ardie Savea alluded to as much with his post-game assessment, there was space they had identified and they went after it.

But that space and those opportunities will not present against an outfit such as Ireland. This was a one-off masterclass in starter plays built for Italy.

Ireland know not to turn the ball over and offer the All Blacks the chance to counter and their set-piece defence is not as brittle either.

There is nothing from this game that would instill fear into Ireland’s ranks, and the 17 points scored by Italy will perhaps bring forth a wry smile. If Italy’s attack can land two tries, what could Ireland’s do.

But neither Pool A or Pool B are finalised in terms of who is going through and in what position.

France vs. Italy and Scotland vs. Ireland still have influence while South Africa’s clash with Tonga is also part of the equation.

All Blacks head coach Ian Foster made it clear he does not have a preference for a quarter-final opponent and wouldn’t start worrying about it until it is determined.

If Italy tip over France, New Zealand could top the pool and still play South Africa. If Scotland force their way through with two wins they could be the assignment.

The chips will fall and determine the path forward. While Ireland is likely, it isn’t yet confirmed.

There is still a chance for the All Blacks to play the Springboks yet.



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