Rugby World Cup Daily: Smith, Whitelock proof still plenty of life in old dogs


These daily files will give you the latest reporting from around the World Cup as well as betting lines, what to watch for information and best reads. Check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from France.

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THE LEAD: Smith, Whitelock proof still plenty of life in old dogs

The All Blacks turned in one of the great attacking displays in Rugby World Cup history in obliterating Italy 96-17 on Friday night in Lyon, earning themselves a likely quarterfinal date with Ireland in the process.

Nearly everything New Zealand touched turned to gold, as they ran in 14 tries through pinpoint crossfield kicks, sublime short passes, daring offloads and set-piece and breakdown authority that will have most pleased coach Ian Foster.

And then there was veteran scrum-half Aaron Smith, who notched a first Test hat-trick in his 122nd international appearance, showing that while Cam Roigard might be his heir apparent after the World Cup, that even at 34 years of age he can still sniff out a try with the best of them.

Smith was the beneficiary of an All Blacks rolling maul to start with, then ran off a Codie Taylor short-side pass and stepped back inside to score his second, before he completed the trebled by running the classic No. 9’s support line to pick up a pass from Jordie Barrett and race away under the sticks.

Better yet, the three five-pointers came within the game’s opening 34 minutes.

“I don’t think I’ve scored a hat [in] first-class [rugby] ever,” Smith said of his effort post-match. “Maybe when I was about eight.

“But I was just grateful to get another game, and any try’s a great try, but to get a few was really nice and special. But when the team and the forward pack are playing like that, you’re just sort of looking for opportunities or cracks, and it’s our job to see them and take them.

“And the forwards were outstanding tonight, the platform they gave us, and when we win penalties and kick into the 22, when we nail our roles we’re pretty dangerous.”

It was also a special night for Sam Whitelock, who became the most capped All Blacks of alltime, surpassing two-time World Cup winning captain Richie McCaw at the top of New Zealand’s Test cap chart.

“It was really special on a personal level, I had some really cool moments this week, some guys have said some awesome things; some videos, some calls, some texts. I haven’t read all of them, but I’ve been able to read a few of them, and it’s been really awesome to stop and slow down and enjoy some of those messages,” Whitelock said.

Asked to share one of those aforementioned messages, Whitelock spoke of Brad Thorn’s influence on his young career when he first started at the Crusaders.

“I saw Brad Thorn a couple of weeks ago, and he sent a couple [of texts], he was there at the start for me, and he really set me up to be successful,” Whitelock said. “And he used to tell Owen Franks and myself before we’d even play a Test match that we’d play a 100, so really cool to reconnect with him and see his lovely family, and just reminisce about some of the stuff we used to get up to in the first couple of years.”


Kolisi set to soar to new heights with 50th Test as captain

Siya Kolisi will captain South Africa for the 50th time in the must-win Rugby World Cup Pool B clash with Tonga in Marseille on Sunday, something that would have seemed fanciful in his early years when just having food on the table was a daily challenge.

The flanker has become an iconic figure in the game after helping his side to the 2019 World Cup title in Japan, and is arguably South Africa’s most loved sportsperson at home. Only John Smit has more tests as Springbok captain with 83.

Kolisi never dreamed of playing for South Africa growing up in poverty-stricken Zwide, let alone becoming a symbol of a united team.

“I played rugby because I enjoyed it, it kept me out of trouble and most of my friends played. I definitely didn’t think I would be sitting here now,” he told reporters on Friday.

His captaincy journey started with the Stormers in 2017 when he was made skipper by former Bok centre Robbie Fleck, and Kolisi conceded it took time to adapt to his new responsibilities.

“I’ve always been the joker in the team, the naughty one. Coach Fleckie came to my wedding and heard me speak. After that he said, ‘I think you should lead the team’,” Kolisi said.

“He gave me the captaincy but it took a while. I would always be the last one at the party, the drunkest one in the room, and now I must be something different.”

Bok director of rugby Rassie Erasmus also saw leadership in Kolisi, and the symbolism of making him South Africa’s first black captain a year later in 2018.

“Coach Rassie has known me since I was 17, Jacques (Nienaber) since I was 18. They know what kind of person I am, and they built things around me.

“In my mind, being captain of the Springboks is a big thing already, but for so many people it meant so much more and I didn’t understand the weight of it.

“I was fortunate to have the players we have in the group; Duane (Vermeulen), Eben (Etzebeth), Pieter-Steph (du Toit) and Handre Pollard. I honestly wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have the guys that we have.”

– Reuters

Japan already looking forward to ‘Grand Final’ against Argentina

Japan quickly turned their focus to their Pool D decider against Argentina after beating Samoa 28-22 on Thursday as they eye a second consecutive quarterfinal spot at the Rugby World Cup.

The Brave Blossoms were on top of things in Toulouse and prevailed with three tries by Pieter Labuschagne, Michael Leitch, Kazuki Himeno and 13 points from the boot of Rikiya Matsuda.

Samoa had Ben Lam red carded early in the second half and that helped Japan even though the Pacific side mounted a late comeback with a penalty and a Christian Leali’ifano converted try.

The result left Japan in second place on nine points, three ahead of third placed Samoa. England, on 14 points, qualified for the last eight as Pool D winners.

Argentina take on Chile on Saturday and a bonus win would put them level with Japan ahead of their clash next week.

“That’s our Grand Final, isn’t it? We have got an opportunity to play a tier one team we have played a few times before,” Japan coach Jamie Joseph said.

“All the guys are going to be really excited for that – it is a big game for us.”

Argentina won their last encounter 54-20 in 2016 and their only World Cup meeting, 33-12, back in 1999, but Japan have since improved while the Pumas have been struggling recently.

To get there, Japan were made to work hard by Samoa, whose physical capacities pushed the Asian side to the limit.

“It was a really tough game and we had to work bloody hard to get the win. Hats off to the Samoan boys – they really took it to us,” Joseph said, praising his team’s defence.

“They are big fellas aren’t they? They got on top of us at times and we had to really keep at it for the whole game,” he added.

“The commitment was certainly there but there were one or two things to work on for next week.”

– Reuters


Argentina vs. Chile

TAB ( Argentina $SUSP, -47.5 $1.85, Chile $51, +47.5 $1.95

What a moment this is for South American rugby, a first ever World Cup match between two nations from the continent. Chile arrived in France with few rugby fans knowing little about their history or ability, but they will leave with many admirers for their attacking endeavour, despite their heavy losses. Sadly there will be one more here before they depart European shores, with the Pumas trying to find some attacking rhythm before next week’s big clash with Japan. They are without key Test regulars Emiliano Boffelli, Pablo Matera and skipper Julian Montoya, who coach Michael Cheika has given the week off, but Argentina will still be desperate to build some momentum ahead of the Brave Blossoms clash – and find the fluidity that has been missing through the opening weeks of the tournament. The Pumas will be comfortable winners.

Fiji vs. Georgia

TAB ( Fiji $1.08, (-17.5) $1.90, Georgia $8, (+17.5) $1.90

Fiji can wrap up their first quarterfinal appearance since 2007, also in France, with a bonus-point win against Georgia on Saturday evening. Fresh off a week’s rest, and their 69-year history-breaking win over the Wallabies, the Pacific Islanders will be buoyed by the opportunity to create more history in the coming weeks. And they have the game to do it now, too, showcasing a defensive grit and breakdown ferocity against Australia that has seldom been seen in Fijian rugby. At the same time they still possess an array of attacking weapons, with the added bonus of Simione Kuruvoli’s newfound accuracy from the kicking tee. Georgia, meanwhile, were disappointing in an 18-all draw with Portugal, to whom they very nearly lost, and will need to find something special if they are any chance of halting the Fijians’ campaign. The Europeans will look to apply pressure at scrum time, and have improved their own attack in recent times, but they are prone to errors and poor decisions under pressure, and that could well be the difference here.

Scotland vs. Romania

TAB ( Scotland SUSP, (-59.5) $.190, Romania $51, (+59.5) $1.90

It’s Scotland’s turn to put the heat on the hapless Romanians, and attempt to build some momentum ahead of next week’s pool-defining clash with Ireland in the process. Coach Gregor Townsend has made a raft of changes, resting key men Finn Russell, Jamie Ritchie and Duhan van der Merwe for next week’s big clash, but that will matter little here with the Scots set to pile on the points at a rate. Romania have shown little to no improvement at the tournament and been every inch the whipping boys they were predicted to be, so a couple of tries here would be a decent result. They’ll be happy when the final whistle blows, knowing that the slightly less clinical Tongans lie in wait for them next weekend.


Eddie Jones continued to duck and weave questions about his post-World Cup future, the Wallabies boss refusing to give a definitive answer as to whether he would be sticking around as Australia coach next year. Asked whether he would be sticking with the Wallabies through their current struggles, Jones said: “I think I have said that before. I know you’re going down that track. I’m concentrating on the Portugal game. I’m 100% committed to the job and I’ve said that previously. And I know you want to keep asking and you can keep asking. I appreciate your interest.”

Full story


Magic All Blacks eviscerate Italy – but what purpose will it have served?

New Zealand resembled the All Blacks of old in Lyon on Friday night, running up a monstrous score over Italy, but the question must be asked: what purpose does the attacking onslaught serve when far greater challenges are ahead? Sam Bruce writes.

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