Italy have squeaked past a determined and inventive Canada 23-18 to keep alive their Rugby World Cup quarter-final hopes.
Tries from Michele Rizzo and Gonzalo Garcia plus 13 points from the boot of Tommaso Allan proved just enough for Jacques Brunel’s men to avert an upset, but they face a far tougher assignment next against Ireland on October 4.
Italy were made to work extremely hard for their unconvincing victory and the key moment was arguably the decision to disallow a Phil Mackenzie try for the Canucks in the 45th minute for a forward pass in the build-up, just after an excellent Matt Evans try had put them 15-13 in front.
Canada were the livelier starters and drew swift rewards when Nathan Hirayama’s 14th-minute penalty was immediately followed by a break from right to left led from deep by DTH van der Merwe.
The Scarlets wing exchanged passes with Ciaran Hearn before touching down. Hirayama added the extras to make it 10-0.
The large Maple Leaf contingent’s enthusiasm was soon dampened as Italy immediately drew level. Prop Rizzo stretched over for a try after clever work from scrum-half Edoardo Gori and Perpignan fly-half Allan converted. Allan brought the scores level in the 25th minute with a penalty conceded by Canada prop Doug Wooldridge.
Allan was replaced by Carlo Canna in the 34th minute and the new man missed a penalty before being tackled into touch as he tried to ground the ball in the left corner as the first half came to a close. However, Italy went into the break ahead after Canada conceded a penalty and Allan, back on the pitch, made no mistake from close in.
Canada emerged fired up for the restart and Evans scored a scintillating try after breaking clear from Phil Mackenzie’s offload.
Hirayama was unable to add the extras but it did not appear to matter too much in the 45th minute as Conor Trainor’s quick hands appeared to have sent Phil Mackenzie clear to touch down, only for referee George Clancy to refer it to the TMO who deemed Trainor’s pass forward.
Boos echoed around Elland Road and Canada initially remained driven on by the injustice, dominating territory for a spell with man of the match Van der Merwe especially dangerous.
The sense that Mackenzie’s disallowed effort was the turning point grew as Italy regained the lead through Garcia’s close-range burst over after an initial effort from hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini was held up close to the line.
Hirayama cut the lead to two points to leave the Italians chewing their nails before Allan nailed a penalty at the end, but the Azzurri held on in a match they might have looked on before the start as a chance to secure the five-point maximum.