Neither of these countries is anyone’s idea of a World Cup quarter-finalist but you will not see a braver, more committed performance in this tournament than the one Canada gave yesterday. Had they received a second-half penalty try that might have come their way, the outcome could have been different.
Against more experienced opponents, Canada dominated possession. No pack will give their half-back quicker ball and the work of their forwards was a credit to Mike Shelley, the former Leeds prop.
Worryingly for Italy, Leonardo Ghiraldini limped off with a leg injury which will be assessed today. He has led the side in the absence of Sergio Parisse, who is expected to rejoin the squad tomorrow after a calf operation.
Italy may be off the mark in pool D but, given that their next opponent is Ireland on October 4, hope is not high. A flurry of 17 points in three-and-a-half minutes set the tone for a ding-dong tussle, No sooner had Nathan Hirayama kicked his first penalty than Tyler Ardron sent Daniel van der Merwe scooting out of his own 22 to link with Ciaran Hearn. The wing took the return pass and went on to score one of the tries of the tournament. But, from the restart, Italy struck back when Edoardo Gori made a 60-metre break and Michele Rizzo arrived to score.
Though Tommaso Allan kicked Italy into an interval lead, Matt Evans, born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, stormed over in the corner four minutes after the break. Mauro Bergamasco came off the bench to play in his fifth World Cup (joining Samoa’s Brian Lima) and Gonzalo Garcia responded with a well-worked try before Phil Mack’s pass to the unmarked Phil Mackenzie was knocked down in the tackle, unintentionally said the referee.
“As a coach, I thought it might have been a penalty try,” Kieran Crowley, Canada’s head coach, said.
Italy: L McLean; L Sarto, T Benvenuti (M Campagnaro, 59), G Garcia (G Palazzani, 73), G Venditti; T Allan (C Canna, 32-40), E Gori; M Rizzo (M Aguero, 47), L Ghiraldini (captain; D Giazzoni, 59), L Cittadini (M Castrogiovanni, 47), Q Geldenhuys (M Fuser, 79), J Furno, A Zanni, F Minto, S Vunisa (M Bergamasco, 58).
Canada: M Evans; P Mackenzie, C Hearn, C Braid (C Trainor, 15), D van der Merwe; N Hirayama (H Jones, 73), J Mackenzie (P Mack, 55); H Buydens (D Sears-Duru, 55), R Barkwill (A Carpenter, 58), D Wooldridge (A Tiedemann, 65), J Sinclair, J Cudmore (E Olmstead, 72), N Dala (K Gilmore, 59), J Moonlight, T Ardron (captain).
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland)
Tries: Rizzo, Garcia
Cons: Allan 2
Pens: Allan 3
Tries: Van der Merwe, Evans
Pens: Hirayama 2