The Wallabies scored two late tries to stave off a fightback from Italy and clinch a hard-fought 40-27 win in Brisbane on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
In the end, the Wallabies came away with the expected result, with Israel Folau and Sefa Naivalu each scoring a brace of tries, but it was really another awful, error-riddled performance from Australia.
Last weekend, the Wallabies suffered a shock loss to Scotland, with the result serving as a microcosm of the troubles facing Australian rugby at the moment.
In the aftermath, an irate fan penned a lengthy rant about the misfiring team, which went viral on Facebook and was shared with the Wallabies’ players by exasperated coach Michael Cheika, who called for a meaningful response from his side.
That response came in the form of a much-needed win, but the fact remains that the Wallabies spent most of this match on the back foot, while having to rely on late tries to Bernard Foley and Reece Hodge to finally seal the result.
In the midst of the Wallabies' struggles, one man has remained a cut above the rest during the June internationals: Folau. Within the opening half an hour on Saturday, he had already wrapped up his brace to become the first Wallabies player in history to score multiple tries in three successive Tests.
It was Folau’s double strike midway through the first half that sent the Wallabies into a handy 21-6 lead, with Naivalu first dotting down after Australia had weathered a considerable early storm from Italy.
Although the visitors did strike back before the break when Michele Campagnaro finished off a beautifully-worked try, it was cancelled out almost immediately after the restart when Naivalu was put away to complete his double.
It was a score that sent the Wallabies into a commanding 15-point lead, but the hosts failed to build any momentum from there as errors continued to haunt their performance, while Italy established complete dominance at scrum time.
As it was, two basic errors (a knock-on and intercept pass) gifted Italy two quickfire tries, with Edoardo Padovani and Tommaso Benvenuti dotting down to suddenly cut the deficit to just a solitary point heading into the final 10 minutes.
To make matters worse for the Wallabies, replacement prop Toby Smith was then shown a yellow card for a scrum infringement, but Italian substitute Abraham Steyn almost immediately followed him to the sin bin after committing a cynical foul.
From that offence, the Wallabies kicked the penalty to the corner, with Foley eventually going over to score the match-winning try once possession was recycled, while Hodge added the finishing touches when he darted away to score in the final play of the game.
Wallabies – Tries: Sefa Naivalu (2), Israel Folau (2), Bernard Foley, Reece Hodge. Conversions: Foley (5).
Italy – Tries: Michele Campagnaro, Edoardo Padovani, Tommaso Benvenuti. Conversions: Tommaso Allan (3). Penalties: Allan (2).
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Lopeti Timani, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Reece Hodge.
Italy – 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Andries van Schalkwyk, 7 Maxime Mbanda, 6 Francesco Minto (c), 5 Dean Budd, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Ornel Gega, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Carlo Cane, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images