Italy scored 31 unanswered second-half points to take temporary charge of Pool A with a World Cup victory over Uruguay in Nice on Wednesday.
Visions of Uruguay repeating their shock victory over Fiji four years ago in Japan were vivid as the South Americans finished the first 40 minutes 17-7 up as Italy had two players sent to the sin bin.
But the Italians made the most of a yellow carding for Uruguay skipper Andres Vilaseca early in the second-half with two converted tries that turned the tide at the Stade de Nice, winning 38-17.
“This is a real group, we are a family and that is with all 33 players that are here,” said Italy captain Michele Lamaro. “I am really proud of the boys tonight.
“It was a really tough game, but I told all the Uruguayan lads to be so proud of their performance.”
Having seen off Namibia 52-8 in their opening match, Italy bagged another try-scoring bonus point to set themselves up perfectly ahead of two massive matches against pool favourites New Zealand and France, both in Lyon, on September 29 and October 6 respectively.
Uruguay had pushed a second-string France side close in their opener before going down 27-12 and will target their match against Namibia on September 27 as their must-win game from the pool phase.
Felipe Etcheverry missed an early penalty for Uruguay, but Italy spurned a chance of their own given early dominance in the scrum and from a re-set, Lorenzo Pani scored on an inside crashball. Tommaso Allan kicked the extras.
Uruguay put the rolling maul that worked so effectively against France into action, but the ball spilled just as the forwards neared the Italian tryline.
Etcheverry pulled a second penalty wide of the posts, but then enjoyed Uruguay’s closest chance for a try as he intercepted a pass and sprinted away towards the line.
Allan just made it back with a try-saving tackle, but Los Teros finally got on the scoreboard after Australian referee Angus Gardner awarded a penalty try either side of yellow cards for Italy prop Danilo Fischetti and lock Niccolo Cannone for dragging down Uruguay’s maul.
With Italy down to 13, Uruguay further capitalised after Allan was pinged for a high tackle, going through multiple phases on the Italian line before the ball was worked to the short side and Nicolas Freitas slid in for a well-taken try.
Etcheverry converted from the touchline and then hit an opportunistic drop-goal from halfway to make it 17-7 at half-time and with it all to do for a ragged-looking Italy.
The turning point came when Vilaseca was sin-binned at the start of the second period for a head-high tackle and Italy pounced with two converted tries.
First Giacomo Nicotera had a try denied by the television match official before the ball was recycled and Lamaro crossed for Italy’s second try, converted by Allan.
Italy retook the lead in the 52nd minute after Australian-born winger Monty Ioane bundled his way over under the posts, Allan kicking the extras to make it 21-17.
It suddenly looked like Uruguay’s staunch first-half defence had taken its toll physically, as Italy dominated possession and executed effectively.
Next over the whitewash was Lorenzo Cannone for his team’s fourth try to guarantee an attacking bonus point, closely followed by Juan Ignacio Brex.
Paolo Garbisi booted a simple penalty as Uruguay ran out of steam.
© Agence France-Presse
Photo: CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP
© Agence France-Presse