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Italy show a glimpse of what may be to come to beat valiant Uruguay

Italy 38-17 Uruguay: Los Teros once again threatened a major shock in Nice but faded in the second half

Harry Latham-Coyle
at the Stade de Nice
Wednesday 20 September 2023 19:55 BST
Monty Ioane celebrates scoring Italy’s third try against Uruguay
Monty Ioane celebrates scoring Italy’s third try against Uruguay (Getty)

Felipe Etcheverry collapsed back on his haunches, the physical exertions and emotional exhaustion clear. For a second time in six days, Los Teros had come close but not close enough, two of the Six Nations eventually showing their strength, first France and now Italy belatedly forced to find themselves to survive a significant South American test.

This was a vital win for Italy, of whom much is expected over these next four years. A brutal group draw, with France and New Zealand to come in Pool A, may cap their quarter-final ambitions this time around but victory here all but secures their spot as an automatic qualifier for the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

They opened up in grand style here, settling down after spending too much of the early proceedings engaging in petulant scrapping and squabbling. With their forwards increasingly able to win the gainline, the final margin was reasonably large, giving Kieran Crowley’s side confidence ahead of back-to-back meetings with the hosts and the All Blacks.

Italy’s goals may lie beyond that double-header, though. Come the 2027 World Cup in Australia, this young side will have had four more years of growth. Captain Michele Lamaro, a try scorer here, is only 25; the elfin full-back Ange Capuozzo, just 24. Regular fly-half Paolo Garbisi, 23, excelled in partnership at inside centre alongside Tommaso Allan, but in time the injured 21-year-old Tommaso Menoncello will make the 12 shirt his own.

But that we can say with close to certainty that these Italians will kick on speaks to the inequalities apparent in the sport. For much of this encounter, there was little to choose between two sides of great style but Italy, as members of the sport’s annual commercial goliath, are afforded regular chances to take on the best. Who knows where Uruguay might get to with more of those opportunities; who knows if we will ever find out.

The first half was fractious, both sides crying murder most foul at each moment of contention – of which there were many. Uruguay fumed when replacement Giovanni Pettinelli got in the way of their attempts to deal with a grubber through, the flanker watching the big screen a little too intently; Italy, meanwhile, felt aggrieved when Angus Gardner failed to award their dominant scrum a fourth successive penalty, resulting in a soft turnover of first phase ball. Referee Gardner wore an unimpressed look for much of the first 40 minutes.

Those scrum woes were threatening to undermine Uruguay’s attempts to back up their standout showing six days earlier, Lorenzo Pani powering over for the opening score after Danilo Fischetti had detonated Ignacio Peculo at the set piece to earn a penalty advantage. Two misses from the tee from Etcheverry weren’t a help, either.

But that breakdown penalty after the collapsed scrum, won by magnificent blindside flanker Manuel Ardao, allowed Uruguay to find the corner, and Niccolo Cannone was soon shown a yellow card for a breakdown misdeed metres from his own line.

Uruguay probed the corner again and their maul was in good order. Ardao could not conclusively be shown to have got the ball to ground, but Danilo Fischetti’s attempts to halt him were deemed illegal. Italy lost a second player to the sin bin and Uruguay drew level at seven points apiece.

Uruguay gave another Six Nations team a fright, coming out strong against Italy as they did for the French hosts (Getty)

A second score arrived with Cannone and Fischetti still waiting to return. The Italy front door’s hinges were appropriately fixed, denying Uruguay’s repeated close-in carries, so Santiago Arata changed approach, flicking away to the left. Etcheverry and Nicolas Freitas found the side door open and the fly half converted Freitas’ slide into the corner to add further to Uruguay’s tally. The fly half’s 41st-minute drop goal wobbled over the crossbar to swell the half-time lead to 10 points.

Soon after the interval, though, came the pivot point. A darting Pani was grasped by the ankles and dipped towards Andres Vilaseca’s shoulder, contact made directly to head and a busy Gardner’s yellow card brandished again. Giacomo Nicotera was somehow denied as Italy showed their own maul might; captain Lamaro would not be a couple of minutes later.

Backing up the efforts against France six days ago always felt like it would be tough for Los Teros, who gave so much in that showing. A laboured attempted clearance was charged down by Tommaso Allan, gifting Italy advanced possession and Monty Ioane capitalised, carving on an angle beneath the posts. Lorenzo Cannone added a bonus point score soon after as the Azzurri’s power game began to tell. Hard-running centre Juan Ignacio Brex added another and a final penalty from Garbisi’s left boot ended any hopes of a final Uruguayan rally.

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