Italy scored nine tries in their 53-17 thrashing of Russia in Nelson.
Italy coach Nick Mallett made the goal clear – secure the bonus-point win against Russia to keep the team’s World Cup play-off qualification hopes alive. Despite 12 changes to the starting line-up, Italy put together a convincing display as they sealed the four-try bonus point by the 22nd minute. The Azzurri continued to run riot, scoring another five tries to seal the comprehensive win. If it wasn’t for poor goal kicking (Italy only converted four tries and missed one penalty attempt), the deficit would’ve been greater.
While Russia were outplayed, it was a special occasion for the Bears. They scored their first World Cup try shortly before half-time when replacement scrumhalf Alexander Yanyushkin dived over from close range. They grabbed another two in the second half through wing Vladimir Ostroushko and inside centre Alexei Makovetskiy as Italy suffered defensive lapses. But apart from that, it was an easy contest for Mallett’s men.
Italy’s ascendancy was achieved through their powerful pack, which saw their strike runners thrive in open play. The Russian forwards were dominated in the one-sided fixture, especially at the scrums where they were forced into reverse on several occasions and conceded a penalty try from a 5m scrum. Italy also ruled the lineout battle and troubled Russia at the breakdown regularly, while the latter’s individual mistakes also cost them dearly.
With frequent front foot ball, skipper Sergio Parisse was highly influential in a strong first quarter. He scored the opening try before setting up two of the next three scores. Hooker Fabio Ongaro was sin binned for a late and dangerous hit on fullback Igor Klyuchnikov and Yanyushkin capitalised from in the following movement, but Italy still finished the stanza strongly with another two tries for a 38-7 lead at the break.
Italy were less clinical and committed more defensive mistakes in the second half. While they did enough to achieve a high-scoring win, the drop in performance will be something Mallett will focus on before they head into their next fixture against the USA – where another bonus-point win will be the goal.
By Gareth Duncan