Australia filleted the Italians with a second-half display of accuracy and precision that’d impress surgeons and intimidate future opponents.
Held 6-6 at halftime by a one-dimensional Italian team, the Wobs brought on hot-tempered larrikin James O’Connor for the very ordinary Anthony Faainga and the complexion of the game changed entirely. AAC moved one in off the wing to outside centre, a role he has become more accustomed to filling in the last year of Deans’ tenure, and all of a sudden the highly-rated Australian backline hit their straps and dragged the team with them. Although grey man Pat McCabe remained more or less anonymous – I’m sure he was busy ‘pulling the rug out, muddying pools … that sort of thing’ – Cooper, Ioane, Beale and HTLJOC made hay while the sun shone in the second half.
There were different weather conditions, and it was a different game, in the first. The teams got through a pair of belting anthems moments before the heavens opened, a meteorological occurrence that played right into Italy’s hands. Their gameplan was predicated on a steady set-piece from their experienced pack and scrum-half Fabion Semenzato’s accurate box-kicking game … they never really looked like they had a plan to score many points, or even an idea as to how they should go about it.
The first half was a penalty-fest, with referee Alain Rolland stamping his authority on the breakdown and the defensive line. Experienced Wob lock Dan Vickerman – one of three South African-born secondrows on the pitch, as pointed out by the commentary team – was found particularly at fault and could well have seen the bin for numerous breakdown infringements. He probably would have met a few Liginds in there. While Quade missed his first attempt at goal by an absolute mile, he managed the next two to put Australia ahead by six. They coughed up this lead late in the first half, Mirco Bergamasco slotting two penalties in three minutes to send the teams in level at halftime.
Deans might have been a little concerned at halftime by the lack of points, but he wouldn’t have been worried. The Wobblies’ scrum was holding its own against the feared Italian eight, albeit an eight that was shorn of both Luca Brasi-alike Sal Perugini and Fabio Ongaro. The Italian backline are a limited bunch, and weren’t helped by ginger inside centre Garcia getting clobbered in an attempted tackle on Vickerman and having even less of an idea than usual about what he was supposed to be doing in the middle of the park.
It took a fine, multiphase try that ended with prop Ben Alexander dotting down to break Italian morale, but from then on the well-oiled, well-coached Wobblies took over, scoring two excellent tries through AAC and HTLJOC within three minutes, both of them converted by the latter. On the hour and at 25-6 the game was over as a contest: Italy were never going to be able to score the three converted tries they needed to take it away.
Deans started taking off his important players at this stage. Pocock, Genia and Moore all came off about the hour mark, and were followed within the next ten minutes by Alexander, Elsom and Vickerman. They were replaced by McCalman, Burgess, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Slipper, Higginbotham and Simmons [respectively]. I find it incredible that baldy icon Nathan Sharpe doesn’t make the bench in a game like this, but maybe he’s being held in reserve.
One piece of bad news for Australia that emerged after the game was that hot-rod Digby Ioane has broken his thumb and will miss the game against Ireland. Drew Mitchell is in the squad, but short on gametime. He sustained a fairly brutal injury early last season, and did well to make the cut, but will doubtless be a little rusty. It could be that the military medium midfield of McCabe and Faainga are retained together with AAC left out on the wing rather than risking introducing Mitchell to a high-octane test match as his first game back. Still, the signs look ominous for Ireland.