Italy hammered debutants Russia 53-17 yesterday to keep their World Cup hopes alive with their biggest ever win in the tournament.
The Six Nations team raced out of the blocks with six tries in the first half, before Russia, who celebrated their historic first ever World Cup tries, recovered with a vastly improved second period.
The bonus-point win keeps Italy in the running for the quarter-finals, despite their opening loss to Australia, with a crunch encounter with Ireland looming on Oct. 2.
“We started the game very well, the first half I was very happy with,” Italy’s South African coach, Nick Mallet, said.
“And then we got a bit loose and I made a lot of changes. But give them credit, they played some very nice, attacking rugby, held on to the ball and ran at us,” he added. “So I was very relieved that we dominated the first phases as much as we did, because if they had too much more ball it might have been a bit more difficult for us.”
Italy’s scrum savaged Russia’s forwards in the first half and they capitalized on a host of errors as captain Sergio Parisse surged through a gap in the defense to open the scoring on six minutes.
Winger Giulio Toniolatti then scored twice in 10 minutes, either side of a try by Tommaso Benvenuti, who pounced when a loose ball slid under the diving body of the last Russia defender.
Italy were awarded a penalty try when their forwards crushed the Russia scrum, but they suffered a blow when Fabio Ongaro was sin-binned for a thumping, shoulder-first collision which laid out fullback Igor Klyuchnikov.
Russia took full advantage when replacement scrumhalf Alexander Yanyushkin darted through for an unorthodox, over-the-head score after landing on his back in the tackle — the country’s first ever try at the World Cup.
Gori crossed just before half-time to make it 38-7 at the break and Benvenuti grabbed his second try eight minutes into the second period, but Russia were not done and Vladimir Ostroushko motored over to keep the scores at 43-12.
Australian-born Luke McLean got Italy’s eighth try on 64 minutes, but Alexey Makovetskiy received a looping cut-out pass in acres of space on the right to raise Russian hopes of a bonus-point fourth try.
However, it was Italy who would have the final say when flanker Alessandro Zanni flattened two defenders to score in the 75th minute.
“Our play wasn’t so good tonight, but I’m glad that we had some tries,” Russia captain Vladislav Korshunov said. “These are the first tries by the Russian team in this tournament.”
Italy have never reached the World Cup quarter-finals in six previous attempts. Their largest victory before yesterday had been their 31-5 win over Portugal in 2007.
Italy now play the US next week, while Russia face Ireland on Sunday.