RWC 2019 Pool Game 11: Canucks routed as Italy go back-to-back
A second-string Italian side has cruised past a gallant Canada in Fukuoka, racking up seven tries in a 48-7 victory that keeps them at the top of Pool B with a maximum 10-point return.
Leading 17-0 at half-time, the Azzurri kicked on in the second half with an attacking flair and execution that was a step up from the sporadic display they had put in against Namibia just four days earlier.
With nine changes to the starting XV from the Namibia match, coach Conor O’Shea was taking a potential gamble in resting so many of his leading lights for the bigger challenges ahead of South Africa and New Zealand.
But his revamped side started firmly on the front foot. A deft grubber down the sideline from fullback Matteo Minozzi in just the second minute, needed some sharp work from his opposite no. Patrick Parfrey to stop Callum Braley opening the scoring. As he’d carried back over his own line, Italy got the put in at a five-metre scrum, and after a surge from Sebastian Negri was stopped just short of the line and Canada infringed, Tommaso Allan slotted 3pts to get his side off the mark.
They went close again six minutes in, an incisive ball carry and offload from Jake Polledri fed wide by Negri for Minozzi to drew his man and send Giulio Bisegni down the touchline. Only for the winger to fluff his lines and spill the ball, guilty of having eyes on the impending double-tackle heading his way from Parfrey and centre Ben Lesage.
Enjoying 90% possession, the Azzurri were unlikely to have to wait long for another chance to strike. And when another five-metre scrum gave them prime field position, no.8 Braam Steyn scooped up from the back and blasted his way through a couple of Canucks to find the line.
Under almost as much pressure as the Canadian defence early on was the pitch in Fukuoaka, large chunks of it churning up under foot in worrying fashion. But it was the men in red in danger of complete collapse, Italian captain for the night Dean Budd barreling his way far too easily through the line to race under the posts for a 17-0 lead inside 14 minutes – the same number of tackles missed by the Canucks.
They should have hit back within a minute from their first visit to the Italian 22. Skipper Tyler Ardron burst onto a pass from flyhalf Peter Nelson to run into a hole vacated by an over-eager Michele Campagnaro. But when he offloaded in the tackle for newly-arrived injury replacement Matt Heaton to go under the posts, the flanker blew his big moment and frustratingly spilled the ball to the floor with no-one home.
The near-miss appeared to allow Canada to finally settle and get into their work, and benefit from some ball to work with, over the next 10 minutes. But they were struggling against both an Italian defence that was keen to remain unbroken, and the incessant humidity that has plagued handling ability in this opening week.
Time and again they spilt in contact or knocked-on while building promising phases, and having failed to make their time in the ascendancy pay, they found themselves back under pressure in their own 22 as the first half drew to a close. Back-to-back penalties gave the dominant Italian scrum a chance to turn the screw, but after a couple of charges off the back for the line, Canada muscled up on their own line to turnover and head to the break with no further damage.
The Azzurri returned with a renewed spring in their step, happy to run from their own half and stress the Canadian defence with a slick offloading game. It took just three minutes to pay off, penalties under pressure seeing the Canucks back on their own line and desperately hanging on. But a bullet cut-out pass from Polledri put fellow flanker Negri over from a metre, and Italy had clear daylight at 24-0.
A first-phase play off a lineout gave Canada another sight at the line after the restart. But a terrific cover tackle from Minozzi did enough to spoil an offload from Hassler, that would have put the supporting DTH Van der Merwe into the record books as the fifth player to score at four different World Cups if it had been taken.
They continued to show plenty of ticker in attack but simply couldn’t hold onto the ball for long enough to do damage. And while Italy were struggling with the slippery pill as well, their ability to keep the ball alive was forcing enough infringements for referee Nigel Owens to step in with a warning for captain Ardron.
So when a potent-looking driving maul was illegally felled just shy of the line before the hour, Owens had little choice but to award a penalty try and show a yellow card to the errant Heaton.
The numerical advantage only opened the door even farther for Italy to make inroads, and it didn’t take them long to walk right through it. The impressive Polledri set the ball rolling with a powerful surge over halfway, leaving a trail of Canadian tacklers in his wake. And with the defence fractured, another superb pass, this time from Negri, gave replacement Mattia Bellini a clear run down the sideline for try number five.
Canada thought they had something on the board when a chip over the top from Nelson ricocheted kindly for his skipper to run under the posts. But even ref Owens seemed disappointed to have to chalk off the consolation, when replays indicated a knock-on in the process. However, their supporters did get something to cheer with just over 10 minutes to go, Nelson dummying his way through the line and firing it wide for Andrew Coe to race down the flank and execute a perfect in and out step to find the corner.
Unfortunately, it was to be their only highlight, as Italy put their foot to the floor with another two scores before the end. The first was another lineout maul, this time allowed to be played out to completion with replacement hooker Federico Zani dotting down. The second off another surge by Man of the Match Polledri, the Gloucester loose forward carving a path through the middle and finding Bellini, who had Minozzi outside him for the run home and a well-deserved try.
A clinical performance from what was effectively a second-string Italian side then, and one which should have plenty of those currently ahead of them in the pecking order, casting nervous glances over their shoulders as they prepare for the clashes against the Springboks and All Blacks.
Both heavyweights also lie in wait for Canada, and despite their refusal to die wondering in this game, they didn’t offer up much evidence to suggest that it will be a case of damage limitation before finishing up with their own World Cup Final against Namibia.
ITALY 48 (Penalty Try, Braam Steyn, Dean Budd, Sebastian Negri, Mattia Bellini, Federico Zani, Matteo Minozzi tries; Tommaso Allan 3 cons, pen, Carlos Canna con) defeated CANADA 7 (Andrew Coe try; Peter Nelson con) HT 17-0 at Fukuoka Hatanamori Stadium