Italy were given a mighty scare on Saturday but managed to see off Canada, winning 23-18 at Elland Road in an entertaining Rugby World Cup fixture.
Both teams crossed for two tries but it was the boot of pivot Tommaso Allan that proved the difference as the Azzurri picked up their first victory of the pool.
For Canada this was a much-improved performance from their heavy defeat to Ireland as tries from wing DTH van der Merwe and full-back Matt Evans put them ahead on two separate occasions in front of 33,120 supporters in Yorkshire.
Italy’s try-scorers were loosehead prop Michele Rizzo and inside centre Gonzalo Garcia as their blushes were saved in a disappointing showing.
It was a high octane opening in Leeds and Canada were the ones edging the contest, particularly at the breakdown where they won two penalties and also forced a turnover. Nathan Hirayama was once again pulling the strings nicely but the scores remained deadlocked for fourteen minutes.
Italy were clearly rattled and that was illustrated by scrum-half Edoardo Gori stamping on a Canadian at a ruck which led to a kickable penalty being reversed. The battle for third place in this pool was most definitely on as Canada grew in confidence whilst enjoying more ball in the 22.
Their dominance finally bore fruit when Italy were caught offside and Hirayama made them pay with three points. The best was yet to come though.
From the restart Canada broke down the left through Van der Merwe before a lovely interchange with centre Ciaran Hearn saw the wing finish well. Hirayama’s extras made it 0-10 to the Canadians but Italy would hit back moments later through prop Rizzo, as he crashed over for 7-10.
The game had gone up another level at this point with Italy now starting to gain the ascendancy as they set up camp 20 metres out. Canada did well to keep the Azzurri out on two occasions but eventually the pressure told, with Allan landing the levelling three points after 25 minutes.
Allan would leave the field before the interval for a Head Injury Assessment and his replacement, Carlo Canna, had a chance to put his side in front from the tee after a Canadian failed to roll away. He was wayward and soon after found himself in touch as he attempted to score wide out.
Italy would however go 13-10 in front as the return of Allan saw an immediate chance to kick three points, this time for Canada’s side entry.
Canada came out fighting in the second stanza and retook the lead on 45 minutes as a scything break from full-back Evans saw him dive over near to the left touchline. Hirayama missed his difficult conversion attempt but his side would still restart with a slender two-point lead in Leeds.
Agonisingly for Kieran Crowley’s side wing Phil McKenzie was denied a try one minute later on the other flank as TMO footage showed there to be a forward pass. That decision came as welcome relief to Italy, who were on the ropes and shocked by what their opponents were throwing at them.
They managed to weather that storm though and hit the front once more before the hour mark when centre Garcia dived over from close range, after Canada had made the error of clearly directly to touch after the ball was taken back into their own 22. Allan’s conversion extended the arrears to 20-15.
Canada certainly had chances to respond with an all-important late score as livewire replacement scrum-half Phil Mack almost set up McKenzie for a run-in. However, an Italian hand halted the pass which meant Canada would be denied but still have possession in the Azzurri red zone.
The pressure finally turned into points from Hirayama’s boot on 72 minutes and so began a frantic final eight minutes of action at Elland Road. Italy though would survive and in fact made sure of the win with the last kick of the game as Allan landed a penalty for 23-18.
Tries: Rizzo, Garcia
Con: Allan 2
Pen: Allan 3
Tries: Van der Merwe, Evans
Pen: Hirayama 2
- Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Francesco Minto, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Josh Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (c), 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Mauro Bergamasco, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Michele Campagnaro.
- Canada: 15 Matt Evans, 14 Phil Mackenzie, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Connor Braid, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Nathan Hirayama, 9 Jamie Mackenzie, 8 Tyler Ardron (c), 7 John Moonlight, 6 Nanyak Dala, 5 Jamie Cudmore, 4 Jebb Sinclair, 3 Doug Wooldridge, 2 Ray Barkwill, 1 Hubert Buydens.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Carpenter, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 Andrew Tiedemann, 19 Evan Olmstead, 20 Kyle Gilmour, 21 Phil Mack, 22 Conor Trainor, 23 Harry Jones.
- Date: Saturday, September 26
- Venue: Elland Road, Leeds
- Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
- Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
- TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
- Full Pool Previews – Click Individual Pool Below