Rugby Union: Stoica provides an early answer

Italy 67 The Netherlands 7
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THERE WERE many questions at issue in Huddersfield last night and precisely none of them concerned the outcome of the latest World Cup qualifying match, if indeed it could be described as such.

Italy were always going to win, by a country kilometre. But would they exceed the 110-point benchmark set by England at the same McAlpine Stadium venue last Saturday? Would they open their account with less procrastination? And would the Netherlands at last register a presence on the scoreboard to add some much-needed substance to their presence on the pitch?

The Italians came up with an initial answer in the 87th second when Cristian Stoica battered his way over beneath the Dutch posts with half of Amsterdam attached to his shirt-tails. Round one to the Azzurri. England had taken four whole minutes to achieve something similar. But after a try-laden opening 12 minutes, during which Carlo Checchinato and Massimo Giovanelli added their names to a roll of questionable honour, it became clear that the English torrent would not be equalled.

In fact, the Italians rather lost their shape in the face of some very decent tackling, a quality highlighted when Steven Rhodes and Nick Holten - hardly the Dutchest of Dutch names - pulled off try-saving hits on Dominguez and Stoica in the same movement.

Deep into the third quarter, it was still difficult to see where a Dutch score might come from; a positively Bergkampian dribble down the left touchline from a London-based radiologist by the name of Anthony Webber earned Garron Everts a shot at goal, but the Reading - yes, Reading - centre was inches wide. Finally, though, it came. It was worth waiting for, too. A sudden burst into open field from the captain, Caine Elisara, was too much for Matt Pini to handle and before the 3,000 crowd knew it, the rangy No 8 was over. Everts converted and everyone was happy.

Italy: Tries Checchinato 2, Bergamasco 2, Stoica, Giovanelli, Caione, Dominguez, Dallan, De Carli, Pini; Conversions Dominguez 4, Mazzriol 2. The Netherlands: Try Elisara; Conversions Everts.

ITALY: M Pini (Richmond); F Roselli (Roma), C Stoica (Narbonne), M Dallan (Treviso), L Martin (Begles-Bordeaux); D Dominguez (Stade Francais), A Troncon (Treviso); M Cuttitta (Calvisano), A Moscardi (Treviso), A Castellani (Roma), C Checchinato (Treviso), S Stocco (Padova), M Giovanelli (Narbonne, capt), C Caione (L'Aquila), M Bergamasco (Padova). Replacements: G Lanzi (Calvisano) for Checchinato, 54; S Saviozzi (Treviso) for Moscardi, 60; G De Carli (Roma) for Cuttitta, 66; F Mazzriol (Treviso) for Dominguez 70; G Mazzi (Roma) for Troncon, 70; M Birtig (Padova) for Caione, 72; G Raineri (Roma) for Stoica, 76.

THE NETHERLANDS: A Webber (London New Zealand); R Korfmman (Castricum), R Van der Walle (Diok), G Everts (Reading), B Ossenkoppele (Amsterdam); S Rhodes (Wakefield), S Ramaker (Rotterdam); D J Vermass (Rotterdam), A Seybel (Den Hague), H Brat (Den Hague), P Fass (Oysters), R Donkers (Barnhall), R Van der Ven (Peyrehorade), C Elisara (Wakefield, capt), N Holten (Waikato). Replacements: T Schumacher (Eemland) for Donkers, 54; O Winkels (Den Hague) for Rhodes, 62; J Volcker (Amsterdam) for Brat, 67; R Lips (Den Hague) for Everts, 73; P Hudson (Diok) for Van der Ven, 76.

Referee: P Thomas (France).

n Anthony Sullivan, the Great Britain rugby league player, scored a try on his Wales A debut but finished up on the losing side as Argentina landed a 28-19 win at Sardis Road, Pontypridd, last night. Sullivan will today have a precautionary scan on a muscle injury.