Italy overturned a 10-point deficit to defeat Canada 23-18 at Elland Road on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
On the back of first-round defeats to France and Ireland respectively, Italy and Canada had it all to play for in order to keep their quarter-final aspirations, however slim, alive.
In an action-packed match that went down to the wire, both sides tested each other’s defence early on but nothing was forthcoming, until the 15th minute when South African-born DTH van der Merwe opened the scoring with a scintillating try.
Canada raced out to a 10-0 lead courtesy of a penalty by pivot Nathan Hirayama and Van der Merwe’s converted effort in the space of a minute. From the restart after the penalty, the left wing took control of the ball and burst down the right flank, leaving several defenders in his wake, before a one-two pass with Ciaran Hearn saw him finish behind the posts.
Italy struck back immediately when, from the back of a ruck, scrumhalf Edoardo Gori went on a darting run to get his team close, and support runner Michele Rizzo picked the ball up and stretched to dot down.
Tommy Allan converted before knocking over two penalty goals, either side of having a concussion test, to give Italy a 13-10 advantage at the break.
Canada made the better start to the second half and scored their second try with a brilliantly executed set-piece move. The ball was sent wide from a wraparound off a lineout and fullback Matt Evans pinned his ears back to score in the corner.
However, Italy responded once again, when centre Gonzalo Garcia bundled over the line from close range to make it 20-15.
The Canadians dominated territory and possession towards the end as they went in search of a try to level matters. But Italy’s defence withstood the onslaught, forcing the opposition to kick for goal when they were awarded penalties.
Hirayama kept things interesting with two further penalties, but the Azzurri were undaunted and Allan sealed the result with a three-pointer after the hooter to end Italy’s five-match losing streak.
Italy – Tries: Michele Rizzo, Gonzalo Garcia. Conversions: Tommy Allan (2). Penalties: Allan (2).
Canada – Tries: DTH van Merwe, Matt Evans. Conversion: Nathan Hirayama. Penalties: Hirayama (3).
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.
Subs: 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.
Subs: 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.
Photo: Matt Runnacles/Getty Images