Wallabies survive Italian surge

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Wallabies have finished their June Series with a win, but it will hardly be described as a high point, after scraping past Italy 40-27.

Australia will finish June with a 2-1 record, but the results will mean little come August 19, when they meet New Zealand in Sydney still in a state of flux after a big win over Fiji, losing to Scotland and just sneaking past Italy.

Two tries in the final two minutes saved Australia from a resurgent Italian side, who whittled down a 15-point margin to just one with 12 minutes left, before Bernard Foley and Reece Hodge sealed the victory.

Another chopping and changing of the lineup would have hopefully at least cemented what Australia’s best XV looks like in Michael Cheika’s mind, but with the caveat of absentees including Samu Kerevi, Sean McMahon and Nick Phipps there are still many questions hanging over this team.

There’ll be little debate over the 15 spot anymore, after Israel Folau earned Australia’s first triple double, with a pair for the third Test in a row, ending any conjecture over his form or best spot.

Israel Folau had a first-half double. Photo: Getty ImagesWinger Sefa Naivalu made the most of his starting recall with a double before being cut down by a leg injury in the second half.

It was a disastrous start for the Wallabies, with a dropped ball putting the home side under pressure and Tommaso Allan slotting the first points for Italy, in just the second minute.

Italy was parked in its territory and literally went within a finger of scoring a try in the sixth minute, but lock Dean Budd’s score was disallowed by TMO Ben Skeen with Giovambattista Venditti ruled to have gone into touch while he offloaded.

Though that turn of fortune went the Wallabies way, that was close to the only positive in the opening 10 minutes, with ninety-five per cent of the game played in Australia’s half to that point.

When they finally did have a chance, the Wallabies converted through Naivalu, who reminded spectators of his value with a blistering run down the left edge.

A Bernard Foley inside ball put Dane Haylett-Petty in danger as the Wallabies started to find their spark, fittingly finished off by Israel Folau in the left corner, opening up an 11-point lead.

Folau had his double by the half-hour mark, courtesy of a pinpoint accurate Karmichael Hunt ball that meant the fullback could bookend Suncorp with a score in the right-hand corner.

Hunt was again one of the Wallabies' better players, with Rob Horne outside him delivering a solid performance after a shock call-up.

Karmichael Hunt was impressive again. Photo: Getty ImagesItaly outside centre Michele Campagnaro left Will Genia and Naivalu behind on his way to the line in the 36th minute, cutting the gap back to eight points. 

It was an inevitable score with the Italians winning the territory game, as the Wallabies failed to exit their own half off the boot.

Wallabies captain Stephen Moore said there was an element of complacency among his team when it came to the break, a mentality that needs to be stamped out.

"What I did feel was at half-time, I think the players thought we should be further ahead," he said.

"We've got to respect the opponent. Italy are a good side and we just need to worry about executing our game plan over and over for 80 minutes."

A Foley tunnel ball led to Naivalu’s second in the 44th minute and the flyhalf slotted his fourth conversion in a row, on his way to a five-from-six record for the day.

The winger’s afternoon came to an unfortunate end, though, with Naivalu exiting after twisting his leg in a collision.

Haylett-Petty lost a high ball contest in the 64th minute to give Italy their second try, the first time they have scored more than one try in Australia in history.

Rory Arnold put the Wallabies in serious danger throwing an intercept try for Tommaso Benvenuti to score for Italy and make the margin just one points.

Things were unravelling for Australia, as they continued their trend of creating their own misfortune, Toby Smith yellow carded in the 74th minute before Italian Abraham Steyn was sent to the bin as well.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he was frustrated at points in the match, though he wants his players to stick with the ball-in-hand style.

"Sometimes you’re going mad because we create excellent play and try and throw a cutout pass, instead of just giving it to the guy next to him," he said.

"They’re the small disciplines we need to start bringing into our game so we can be more consistent.

"That way you get out of that wave of up and down, up and down. When you do something really quite good and then you have good opportunity to nail it.

"Those types of things hurt us in the game."

The Wallabies will not play a Test until Sydney's Bledisloe, with two more rounds of Super Rugby and the domestic finals to come.


Australia 40 

Tries: Folau 2, Naivalu 2

Cons: Foley 5

Yellow card: Smith (74')

Italy 27

Tries: Campagnaro, Padovani, Benvenuti

Cons: Allan 3

Pens: Allan 2

Yellow card: Steyn (74')