Pack power helped Italy overcome a determined effort by the US to claim a 27-10 bonus-point victory yesterday, putting them in reach of their first appearance in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
The victory moved Italy onto 10 points in Pool C, level with Australia and three behind leaders Ireland, who they meet in a pivotal clash in Dunedin on Sunday.
Captain Sergio Parisse, flyhalf Luciano Orquera and prop Martin Castrogiovanni scored tries as Italy’s pack proved far too strong for their weary opponents, who conceded the all-important penalty try 14 minutes from time.
“We are happy because we took the five points, that was the important thing for us,” Parisse said in a pitchside interview. “The United States gave us a lot of hard work, but now we are looking forward to the match against Ireland with a lot of confidence.”
Italy were quickly out of the blocks and a big score looked likely after a clever pop pass from lock Cornelius van Zyl set Parisse clear to score under the posts after just three minutes.
The US were not downhearted by their sloppy start and drew level 10 minutes later when powerful center Paul Emerick cut through some slack defending, before offloading for fullback Chris Wyles to cross for an easy try.
Wyles converted his try and then he and Italy winger Mirco Bergamasco traded penalties as the fired-up US side, who were hammered 67-5 by Australia on Friday, threatened to take an unlikely lead.
However, Italy’s scrum proved too strong for their opponents and they forced the determined US side to defend for long periods.
The pressure told when Italy grabbed their second try through Orquera after 30 minutes. As the US defense sprinted out, the flyhalf stole in behind to cross for a score.
Italy’s muscle was beginning to tell and after being denied by the television match official minutes earlier, tight-head prop Castrogiovanni bulldozed over from close range to stretch the lead to 20-10 just before halftime.
Play raged from end to end at the start of the second half, before US flanker Louis Stanfill was shown a yellow card after numerous scrum infringements close to his own line.
Parisse rejected the chance to kick at goal and continually opted for the scrum in a tedious spell and despite their obvious advantage, Italy fluffed several chances to score.
However, Italy claimed the crucial bonus point for their fourth try when their forwards piled on the pressure and referee George Clancy awarded a penalty try for US infringements at the scrum.
Victory over Ireland on Sunday would probably send Italy on their way to a quarter-final clash with South Africa and coach Nick Mallett was keen to make sure his players had come through yesterday’s game without injury.
“The first thing I asked my players was if anyone was injured because I wanted to make sure they were OK for the game in five days,” Mallett said. “I’m sorry if the game was not as open as some would have liked, but you have to play to your strength and we thoroughly deserved the penalty try, if not more. Ireland played very well against Australia and dominated them physically, but we know we have the better front-row and we will try to prove that. Hopefully, those guys can put us on the front foot and that will make it more difficult for Ireland.”
US captain Todd Clever said Italy had been tough opponents, but that he was proud of the way his team had played.