Planet Rugby

O'Connor treble deflates Azzurri

13th June 2009 10:25


Matt Giteau feeds James O Connor against Italy

Easy as that: Giteau to O'Connor

Teenage full-back James O'Connor continued his meteoric rugby rise on Saturday as his hat-trick saw the Wallabies beat Italy 31-8 in Canberra.

Still at the tender age of only eighteen and with a hefty international future sure to follow, O'Connor supported well for his first two scores but saved the best until last by bumping off the mighty Sergio Parisse in the first of this two-Test series.

It's difficult to gauge the Wallabies at this early stage - particularly as they have only played a jet-lagged Barbarians outfit and a nation who have not won for a year - but what they do possess is a host of attacking weapons and solid defence that will serve them well in the 2009 Tri-Nations.

But while Robbie Deans will of course be pleased with how O'Connor took his chance, Italy's usual strangling tactics did make life difficult for the hosts to find any fluidity in the cold conditions.

Their first score did take just four minutes to arrive when an unmarked Lachie Turner was utilised well from his blindside wing to feed the young debutant. So everything seemed to be going to the pre-match script with more five-pointers on their way, surely?

But that wasn't the case as the steely resolve of the Azzurri became prominent, with Mauro Bergamasco and captain Parisse made their presence felt - the former's accidental knee collision with Lachie Turner's head leaving the back motionless for a period.

Unfortunately for the touring side though, who play the Wallabies again in Melbourne next week, their attacking arsenal did not match their tackling. And with George Smith at his breakdown best throughout alongside the tactical kicking of you know who, Italy's efforts were few and far between as the scoreline remained at 5-0 on 25 minutes.

But from that moment up until the break the Wallabies finally clicked into some sort of rhythm to demonstrate the kind of form that did for the Barbarians last weekend.

First it was the in-form Giteau's late change of direction from behind the ruck that saw him pierce a gap before freeing his arms to send O'Connor over for his second. Then his partner in crime, Berrick Barnes, was then on hand to set up the fly-half for a slightly fortuatest try under the posts on 33 minutes.

But from that moment up until the break the Wallabies finally clicked into gear and showed the kind of form that did for the Barbarians last weekend.

First it was the in-form Giteau's late change of direction from behind the ruck that saw him pierce a gap before freeing his arms to send O'Connor over for his second. They weren't done there though as his partner in crime, Berrick Barnes, was then on hand to set up the fly-half for a slightly fortuitous try under the posts on 33 minutes.

Italy did respond before the interval with three points from the boot of Luke McLean, who had been pushed into the full-back role due to Australian-born Craig Gower's inclusion at ten, and they were also starting to look much more impressive on the turnaround.

And it was in fact Bayonne's 31-year-old that set up the Azzurri's first and only try on 43 minutes when his drop-goal dummy saw took him down the touchline before a switch with Kaine Robertson closed the gap to just nine points.

But the winger's score served only as false hope for Nick Mallett's side as Australia regrouped to dominate the second period with two more tries putting the game beyond doubt. Stirling Mortlock's now typical surge against the grain got them going before O'Connor's crafty footwork left Parisse and Italy slightly embarrassed.

Man of the match: We're not going to fall into the trap of building up a youngster to the point of stupidity but credit where credit is due, James O'Connor was impressive on debut. However, the game award goes to Berrick Barnes after he once again went about his business alongside Matt Giteau. His tactical kicking was faultless and the centre's calmness in possession was a big factor in the result.

Moment of the match: It has to be when James O'Connor bumped off an unbalanced Sergio Parisse to claim his third score of the evening. One feels the youngster should run and hide when they meet again in Melbourne.

Villain of the match: Nothing huge to report but at a push Mauro Bergamasco's knee might appear in Lachie Turner's clouded thoughts later tonight.

The scorers:

For Australia:

Tries: O'Connor 3, Giteau, Mortlock

Con: Giteau 3

For Italy:

Tries: Robertson

Pen: McLean

Australia: 15 James O'Connor, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Stirling Mortlock (capt), 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Richard Brown, 7 George Smith, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 James Horwill, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.

Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 David Pocock, 20 Josh Valentine, 21 Quade Cooper, 22 Adam Ashley-Cooper.

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Kaine Robertson, 13 Mirco Bergamasco, 12 Matteo Pratichetti, 11 Alberto Sgarbi, 10 Craig Gower, 9 Pablo Canavosio, 8 Sergio Parisse (capt), 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Carlo Antonio Del Fava, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Fabio Staibano, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.

Replacements: 16 Franco Sbaraglini, 17 Ignacio Rouyet, 18 Marco Bortolami, 19 Paul Derbyshire, 20 Tito Tebaldi, 21 Kristopher Burton, 22 Gonzalo Garcia.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)

Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

Television match official: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)

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