Italy got the job done but were made to graft for their 24-20 victory over the USA in San Jose on Saturday.
The result was a momentus one for the Azzurri as it’s their first victory under new head coach Conor O’Shea, who took over the reins from Jacques Brunel at the end of a winless Six Nations campaign.
Italy’s hero was their hooker, Ornel Gega, who scored a try either side of half-time which paved the way to victory. Azzurri fly-half Carlo Canna also impressed with a 14-point haul via three penalties, a conversion and a drop goal.
Despite finishing on the losing side, the Eagles were competitive throughout and they will be happy with their competitive performance as they came into this clash after ending off their Americas Rugby Championship campaign in February with two successive defeats against Brazil and Uruguay.
The USA opened the scoring in the 12th minute via an AJ MaGinty penalty but Canna drew his side level from the kicking tee soon afterwards. The game came alive in the 21st minute when referee Marius van der Westhuizen awarded a penalty try to the home side. This after a Canna was adjudged to have thwarted a certain try with a deliberate knock on.
The Azzurri struck back 10 minutes later when Gega scored his first try from close quarters after his side set up a drive from a line-out deep inside the Eagles’ 22.
Shortly before half-time, Canna slotted a penalty which meant the visitors held a slender 11-10 lead at the interval.
Italy were fastest out of the blocks and a well-taken drop goal from Canna extended their lead in the 43rd minute before MacGinty struck back with his second penalty to narrow the lead to one point again in the 51st minute.
The home side suffered a setback five minutes later, however, when Cam Dolan received a yellow card for dangerous play at a line-out inside his 22.
From the ensuing penalty, Italy kicked for touch and, in similar fashion to his try in the first half, Gega barged over from a rolling maul at the line-out.
Canna added the extras to give his side a 21-13 lead but the USA didn’t surrender and struck back with a Tony Lamborn try in the 70th minute, after MacGinty and Mike Te’o did well in the build-up.
MacGinty slotted the conversion to narrow the gap to a point but Canna secured victory for the visitors with his third penalty shortly before full-time.
Tries: Penalty try, Lamborn
Cons: MacGinty 2
Pens: MacGinty 2
Yellow card: Dolan
Tries: Gega 2
Pens: Canna 3
Drop goal: Canna
USA: 15 Will Holder, 14 Taku Ngwenya, 13 Thretton Palamo, 12 Shalom Suniula, 11 Blaine Scully, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Nate Augspurger, 8 Cam Dolan, 7 Todd Clever (C), 6 Andrew Durutalo, 5 Greg Peterson, 4 Nate Brakeley, 3 Chris Baumann, 2 James Hilterbrand, 1 Titi Lamositele
Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Ben Tarr, 18 Angus MacLellan, 19 Stephen Tomasin, 20 Harry Higgins, 21 Tony Lamborn, 22 Chad London, 23 Mike Te’o
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 David Odiete, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Robert Barbieri, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Maxime Mbandà, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)