RWC 2019 Pool Game 5: Underwhelming Azzurri still outgun Namibia
Taken on face value, seven tries and a 25pt victory to open your Rugby World Cup campaign is not exactly to be sniffed at. But Italy still managed to underwhelm as they overcame a spirited Namibian side 47-22 in Osaka yesterday.
Faced with heat and humidity in the first half, and torrential rain in the second, the Azzurri were generally sloppy with ball in hand, dropping plenty and wasting some golden opportunities in the opening stanza in particular, as they built a 21-7 lead. Meanwhile, Namibia crossed early, battled hard with no reward for the next hour, and came home with a wet sail and 15pts, to put a more respectable look to the scoreline.
Their grand final will be the clash against Canada, and if they can offer the same sort of threat in attack there as they sporadically managed here, they could be a chance of claiming their first ever World Cup win. And in fairness to Italy, the fact they were still able to concoct seven tries whilst being somewhat below-par, suggests there could be plenty more to come. They will certainly need it against New Zealand and South Africa.
It had all started so well for the underdogs. A botched lineout from Italy on halfway gave Namibian hooker Torsten Van Jaarsveld a chance to carry hard into enemy territory. And when the ball went wide, the Welwitschia’s had the numbers for winger Chad Plato to hug the touchline and pass infield for Darryl De La Harpe to put scrumhalf Damian Stevens over from 15 metres.
Cliven Loubser added the extras but Italy almost hit back straight away, butchering a try when they dropped the ball with numbers out wide. However, Namibia were offside, and after taking the scrum option, the Azzurri pack had their counterparts on skates to earn a penalty try and level the scoreboard.
They let another golden opportunity pass in the 17th minute when centre Tommaso Benvenuti found a gap on halfway and fed Tommaso Allan. But the flyhalf didn’t have the speed to outpace his chaser, and then passed to the feet of fullback Jayden Hayward with two men free on his outside for the run home.
Captain Sergio Parisse then had the ball over the chalk off a five-metre scrum, only to be pulled back because it had already wheeled through 90 degrees. And the talismanic skipper then saw his route to the line inadvertently blocked by referee Nic Berry – much to his annoyance – when he peeled off the back of the reset. But they were unsurprisingly the next to score when a line break from Luca Morisi dissected the Welwitschia’s defence, and a quick recycle from halfback Tito Tebaldi sent halves partner Allan crashing under the posts.
Namibia were struggling to get out of their own half, indeed their own 22, as Italy turned up the pressure valve. But they were failing to take significant advantage due to a litany of knock-on’s, sloppy handling and passes in behind, in what was easily the worst 40 minutes of the tournament so far. But the half did end with one moment of magic, a sublime no-look pass from Italian lock Federico Ruzza that sent Tebaldi scurrying up the touchline and away for try number three after the siren.
A half-time deluge that continued into the second half changed conditions dramatically at Hanazono Stadium, meaning game management and smarter set-piece play were now the order of the day. But it was another piece of individual brilliance that brought the next score three minutes in, Italy’s Benvenuti grubbering beautifully across the soaking wet grass and behind the Namibian line, for winger Edoardo Padovani to stroll over and help the Azzurri to a 28-7 lead.
Coach Conor O’Shea used the handy buffer to introduce some fresh blood, no doubt with the bigger battles that lay ahead in his mind, with over half his allotted bench joining the fray. And they made an immediate impact, the backline suddenly running free to send replacement Matteo Minozzi down the sideline, only for the talented utility to juggle the wet ball and miss his cue. But when play was recycled back infield, there was no-one to stop fellow new arrival Carlos Canna from slicing through and just about grounding thanks to the TMO, to help his side extend their advantage to 28pts.
You wondered where Namibia could go from there with half an hour still to play, but it seemed like making an impact on the scoreboard 3pts at a time was not the way forward. So it was somewhat surprising to see Loubser dissect the uprights from a breakdown penalty on the edge of the 22 in the 50th minute.
However, the score clearly revitalised them, and they showed they weren’t about to lay down and have their bellies tickled by concocting another five-pointer shortly after, a nice first-phase play off a scrum that saw a decoy runner open the space for JC Greyling to slide home.
The sun had come back out by the time Italy clicked again to grab another, the impressive Jake Polledri spinning his way out of a lineout maul to power over. And a game that did little to alter the perception that their fellow Pool B heavyweights from the Southern Hemisphere will be shooting fish in a barrel when they meet these two sides, did end with a flurry.
The alert Minozzi finished neatly after the forwards had done the hard yards to take the Azzurri out to 47pts. But the last word went to the brave Welwitschia’s, who finished in style when Plato burst onto a pop pass and through two tackles, stepped inside another defender, and gassed his way past two more to dive for the line.
ITALY 47 (Penalty Try, Tommaso Allan, Tito Tebaldi, Edoardo Padovani, Carlos Canna, Jake Polledri, Matteo Minozzi tries; Tommaso Allan 3 cons, Carlos Canna 2 cons) defeated NAMIBIA 22 (Damian Stevens, JC Greyling, Chad Plato tries; Cliven Loubser 2 cons, pen) HT 21-7 at Hanazono Stadium, Osaka