By Lobsang DS Subirana
Sports Desk, Sep 20 (EFE).- Italy ran out comfortable winners Wednesday at the Rugby World Cup in a scrappy comeback under wet conditions against a tenacious Uruguay side that led comfortably into the break but fell away in the second half.
The 38-17 score for the Pool A fixture at the Stade de Nice in France secured Italy coach Kieran Crowley’s men a bonus point victory, something they’d have snatched off anyone’s hands when they went trailing by 10 points to Los Teros after the first 40 minutes.
“I told all the Uruguayan players to be so proud of their performance,” Italy captain Michele Lamaro told the press during his on-pitch interview, recognizing the South Americans’ performance.
But it was Lamaro’s team that looked the most dangerous in the early stages, as winger Ange Capuozzo made inroads within the opposition 22-meter line in a kick chase that forced Uruguay to ground the ball in their in-goal area.
From the ensuing scrum came the match’s first try, as winger Lorenzo Pani took a crash ball off a phase to score the first try by only just touching down.
Uruguay looked nervous, unlike the team that pushed France last week and unaided by a scrum that began cagily and gave away early penalties; and missed easy penalties as fly-half Felipe Etcheverry failed to convert a couple of shots from close range.
But they began dominating the breakdown and soon won a couple of turnovers they used to cause a large momentum swing. Lamaro threw a slow pass to the wing just inside his own half that Etcheverry intercepted before being brought down in the five-meter line and Italy’s discipline problems began.
Lock Niccolo Cannone was shown a yellow card for cynical play following a sustained spell of Uruguayan pressure deep inside the Azzurri’s half. It got worse for Crowley’s men, when loosehead prop Danilo Fischetti met the same fate shortly after for collapsing the ensuing maul and giving away a penalty try.
Italy had not received a yellow card in more than two tournaments. Now, they had received two yellow cards in not even two minutes. It was all epitomized by referee Angus Gardner giving two team warnings while play developed in the midfield, one for a tackle off the whistle, another for a high shot.
Esteban Meneses’ men capitalized on the numerical advantage after kicking a penalty to the corner, with Los Teros curiously picking and going toward the posts despite the clear two player advantage out wide. It worked, but they would go left to the short side for winger Nicolas Freitas to surge them ahead in the scoreboard.
Etcheverry redeemed himself with an assist and a curling conversion, supplementing it with an exquisite drop goal from 30 meters that saw them leading 7-17 at the change of ends.
We can only speculate on what Crowley told his men at half time, but the reaction was instant.
Uruguayan captain Andres Vilaseca saw a yellow card for a high tackle early after the restart, and Italy seized the moment to begin their comeback. They first had a maul held up after winning a penalty. Then, a subsequent play led the Azzurri to the opposition 22-meter line, where much of the second half would take place.
On this occasion, it was Lamaro running a hard line following some fast hands, as he easily passed Uruguay scrum-half Santiago Arata to bring his side to within three points. They then scored again, as Italy began to turn the screw and play territory deep into Los Teros’ half.
This time, they played fast through the hands from a five-meter ruck off the opposition five-meter line to find winger Montana Ioane, who scored easily under the posts in a similar move to Pani’s first-half try to extend his team’s lead.
This signified Uruguay’s demise, with Italy soon scoring anew through No. 8 Lorenzo Cannone and outside center Ignacio Brex, using the last 20 minutes to mask a very hard-earned victory that puts them top of the pool going into their hardest fixtures yet.
The score won’t reflect the Azzurri’s loss of control during large swaths of the first half, or the team’s early issues with discipline. It won’t show either that Los Teros humbled the Italians at the breakdown, a worrying prospect as they prepare to play two teams in France and New Zealand with important jackalling threats.
But it will remind sides that Italy play a lethal brand of exciting and attacking rugby, capable of delivering tries aplenty in waves of incessant pressure on the opposition red zone. There are aspects about Crowley’s team to fix; but there are also aspects about them to fear. EFE