SYDNEY: The World Cup's heavy-hitters showed no mercy for the lesser lights yesterday as the tournament moved into top gear with a quartet of matches straddling the country.
Favourites New Zealand along with France, South Africa and Ireland totalled up a staggering 247 points as they saw off the challenges of overmatched Italy, Fiji, Uruguay and Romania.
All four gained a bonus point each rewarding for the first time in World Cup history any team that scores four or more tries in a match.
Following Australia's scrappy but never-in-doubt win over Argentina in Friday's opener, the results further fuelled fears that the three-week long first round will suffer from a succession of one-sided contests.
But while New Zealand looked ominously potent in dismantling the plucky Italians 70-7, there was bad news for coach John Mitchell with injuries to two top players centre Tana Umaga and winger Joe Rokocoko.
Vice-captain Umaga was facing a premature end to his participation after sustaining a knee injury early on in the match.
“Tana doesn't look great. He's potentially out of the tournament,” said All Blacks assistant coach Robbie Deans. “It's a potential rupture in the posterior cruciate ligament. It would be a tragedy if he was out of the tournament.”
As for Rokocoko, one of the outstanding new talents of world rugby, the news was more mixed after he pulled up while speeding in for his second try of the match.
Deans said he had torn a hamstring, which would normally compromise his playing any further part in the competition, but he went on to describe it as “minor”
There were no such worries for flashy France as they put months of self-doubt behind them to speed away from an unfit-looking Fiji side.
The Fijians kept within striking distance until early in the second half when Bernard Laporte's men switched up a gear and ran in five tries without reply to finish off in style 61-18 winners.
“It was a beautiful match for the French backs,” said French skipper Fabien Galthie. “It was a very good performance, we had some good moves and good momentum.”
South Africa also drew the curtain on a troubled build-up to Australia culminating in a bitter row about racism in the sport by blowing away Uruguay 72-6 with a hat-trick of tries from veteran scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen.
There were two tries also for tough lock Bakkies Botha to cap a happy return in his first outing since the expiry of a two-month suspension for foul play during the Tri Nations.
In the day's other game, Ireland underlined their potential with a 45-17 win over Romania leading all the way, although the east Europeans were far from being out of their depth.
Irish coach Eddie O'Sullivan was full of praise for his vanquished opponents.
“They are a good football team, Romania, and when they got opportunities they certainly knew how to put them away, we got busted a few times,” O'Sullivan said. – AFP