Wallabies leave it late to avoid Italy embarrassment
AUSTRALIA used its "get out of jail free" card against Italy just as it looked like suffering a fate far more embarrassing than what rugby fans saw in a loss to Scotland last weekend.
Moments of scintillating attacking play were punctuated with basic skill errors and poor decision making as the home side left it late to secure a 40-27 victory over the Azzurri. Two tries in the dying stages made it a flattering scoreline for the Aussies.
When Toby Smith was sin-binned with less than 10 minutes remaining after yet another infringement at scrum time (where his side struggled all day), the Wallabies, then up 28-27, were at risk of being overrun by an Italian side full of confidence after storming back into the contest.
But Italy wasted a golden chance when Braam Steyn was shown a yellow card for lashing out with his leg when halfback Will Genia picked the ball up from the back of the ruck. The decision to refuse a shot at goal proved a masterstroke for Australia as Bernard Foley dummied on the inside and went himself to score the match-sealer.
Reece Hodge put the icing on the cake on the last play of the match, burning two Italian defenders with sheer pace in a 50m burst to score a try after some clever work from Foley created space for his outside backs.
The Wallabies endured an indifferent opening to the match. Some horrendous handling in the first few minutes gave Italy every opportunity to score, and only a controversial call by the TMO prevented the Azzurri from registering the first try of the game.
The visitors dominated possession and field position for the entirety of the first stanza but when Australia found its groove in attack it was hard to stop, piling on three tries in the first 40 minutes. Israel Folau made history by scoring two of them, becoming the first ever Wallaby to score two or more tries in three consecutive Tests as he continued the try-scoring feast he'd been enjoying against Scotland and Fiji in the past two weeks.
Italy - who had already potted two penalty goals - hit back with a try on the break five minutes before half-time to reduce the deficit to eight. A clever inside ball put an Italian runner through a hole on halfway and an offload found centre Michele Campagnaro, who had too much pace for the Aussies in a 40m sprint.
The second half resumed with Australia up 21-13, and its attack was slick from the resumption as some off-the-cuff play saw the Wallabies score their fourth try of the afternoon.
From a couple of metres out Foley scooped a pass through his legs to Dane Haylett-Petty, who in turn found Karmichael Hunt. The inside centre threw a long spiral pass out to Sefanaia Naivalu who scored his second try of the match before going off with a knee injury shortly after.
The hosts bombed a couple of tries midway through the second half as loose passes went over the sideline, and their poor execution came back to haunt them as Italy scored two tries in quick succession with 15 minutes left to make it a one-point ball game.
Haylett-Petty couldn't hold onto a cross-field bomb on the Australian tryline and Italian fullback Edoardo Padovani scooped up the loose ball to score before Tommaso Benvenuti intercepted a Rory Arnold pass deep inside Australian territory to rack up another five-pointer.
The Wallabies would endure even more nervous moments as Italy threatened to take the lead, but they held on for an unconvincing win.