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Italian job puts Australia U20s World Championship on life support

Written by Lachlan Gre, courtesy of Source article
Italian job puts Australia U20s World Championship on life support

Australia U20s’ World Championship dream is at risk of becoming a nightmare following a heart-breaking 17-12 loss to Italy overnight.

The injury-plagued Aussies suffered another blow before kick off with Nathaniel Tiitii becoming the fourth player ruled out since their 33-15 win over Georgia and fought bravely in torrential rainfall.

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The sides traded two tries apiece at Cape Town’s Athelone Sports Stadium but the Azzurrini would not be denied, bouncing back from their 55-15 loss to Ireland and blowing Pool B wide open with a maiden U20s win over Australia.

“It’s a tough one, that’ll hurt. Not the result we wanted but fair play to Italy,” Australia U20 captain Toby Macpherson told media post-game.

“They played really well and worked hard in that second half to keep repelling us so good on them.”

Gutsy first-half defence kept Australia in the hunt with Nathan Grey’s side conceding just seven points despite Italy dominating territory (65 per cent) and possession (59 per cent) with the wind at their back.

The gold wall laid on 94 tackles in the opening term with backrow duo Jack Harley and Dane Sawers immense in defence, combining for four turnovers and two try-saving plays.

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Flyhalf Harry McLaughlin-Phillips’ astute kicking also helped counter Italy’s ascendancy while standout fullback Shane Wilcox was unflappable in the driving rain.

Australia cracked just once with Luca Bellucci burrowing over midway through the half but any hopes of an Italian slump after the break were dashed when Sawers saw yellow for a croc roll in the 41 st minute.

Buoyed, the Azzurrini surged forward with hooker Valerio Siciliano proving too strong in the 44 th minute, Simone Brisighella’s conversion opening a 14-0 lead.

Brumbies prop Lington Ieli hit back immediately for Australia, forcing a turnover from the ensuing kick off to set up a lineout drive five metres out with hooker Ottavio Tuipulotu touching down shortly after.

McLaughlin-Phillips’ conversion narrowed the margin to seven as momentum began to shift Australia’s way but the Italians were just as desperate, shutting down long-range counters from Angus Staniforth, Jarrah McLeod and Kadin Pritchard as the downpour intensified.

Wilcox broke the game open in the 60th minute with an inspired play, drawing three defenders and offloading to Ronan Leahy for a fine finish in the corner, though McLaughlin-Phillips’ missed conversion attempt left the Italians ahead 14-12 in the final quarter.

Australia went close again off the back of an attacking scrum 30m out with sharp backline interplay putting Wilcox into space but the final pass went astray with Leahy unable to replicate their earlier efforts.

Eventually Italy’s scrum proved the difference, pinning Australia downfield in the final 10 minutes and managing the clock to grind out a famous win iced with Brisighella’s late penalty goal.

Australia 12 (Tries: Tuipulotu, Wilcox; Conversion: McLaughlin-Phillips) def by Italy 17 (Tries: Bellucci, Siciliano; Conversions: Brisighella (2); Penalty: Brisighella)

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