Italy edge out Fiji
A bizarre, high-scoring and heated affair in Cremona saw Italy overcome touring Fiji 37-31 in their second November Test on Saturday.
Despite what the scoreline might suggest, the game was a terrible advertisement for Test match rugby.
Italy owe their success largely to the five yellow cards coughed by the Fijians, four of which came in an eight-minute spell of madness late in the first half.
A week after a 50-20 mauling by Australia in Turin, coach Jacques Brunel had called for a determined performance by his Azzurri but he will not be happy man as his team put in a woeful display in almost very department bar the scrums.
Indeed, on what was the 100th appearance for skipper Sergio Parisse and prop Martin Castrogiovanni, the hosts were made to work by Fiji, who launched a late fightback with two tries in the final eight minutes to eventually outscore their hosts five tries to four.
Italy went in for half-time with a 20-5 lead after Akapusi Qera, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Masi Matadigo and Nemani Nadolo were all sin-binned.
Before then, Italy had dominated possession but had been largely unconvincing as Fiji's size and aggression caused problems.
Centre Luca Morisi was floored by a crushing tackle from Tikoirotuma in the opening minutes and although he returned in time for fly-half Luciano Orquera to put the first three points on the board with a penalty, he was soon forced off.
Two minutes later Fiji pounced on a fumble near their try line to grab their opening try. Tikoirotuma took possession and ran the length of the field before offloading to full-back Metuisela Talebula to touch down wide of the posts.
Parisse then crossed for the hosts but suspicions that Orquera's pass was forward were soon confirmed by officials. Orquera then missed a penalty from 30 metres out and with Fiji still leading 5-3 the match took a turn for the worse.
Tempers frayed after Qera up-ended Gori, prompting Castrogiovanni to react angrily with a punch as others joined the fray.
Fiji's ill-discipline left them with 11 men for the closing 12 minutes of the half, allowing Italy to finally capitalise.
Parisse was awarded the try after Italy's ruck pushed the big number eight over the line, with Orquera adding two points with the boot for the conversion.
Full-back Luke McLean added another try on 33 minutes with Orquera on target to seal a 20-5 half-time lead for the hosts.
Brunel replaced Gori with Tobias Botes for start of second half, which provided a far better demonstration of rugby from both sides but saw the hosts come close to being stunned at the death.
Fiji replied to an Orquera penalty soon after the restart with a persistent chase which gave them a deserved try, after Parisse failed to deal with Talebula's chip and Nagusa run in to touch down deep in the corner.
Bai narrowly missed the conversion from a difficult angle, while at the other end Orquera missed a penalty attempt to the left of the posts.
Italy finally began to find their rhythm and, after Gonzalo Canale was hauled down by Wame Lewaravu, the hosts won a penalty try from the scrum, with Orquera adding the conversion for a 30-10 lead.
But despite looking in command, Italy took their foot off the pedal.
Nadolo made up for his past infringement to burst through on the right and touch down, with Bai adding the conversion.
Fiji lost replacement Sisa Koyamaibole to the sin-bin 13 minutes from the final whistle but despite Parisse putting Fijian-born replacement Manoa Vosawai through to touch down and Tommaso Allan adding an easy conversion, Fiji fought back defiantly.
Nalaga touched down on 71 minutes, with Bai converting, and after Parisse was sin-binned, Nagusa grabbed his second try with Bai taking the score to 37-31 with five, nervous minutes to play.
Tries: Parisse, McLean, Penalty try, Vosawai
Conversions: Orquera 3, Allan
Penalties: Orquera 3
Yellow card: Parisse
Tries: Talebula, Nagusa 2, Nadolo, Nalaga
Conversion: Baikeinuku 3
Yellow cards: Qera, Tikoirotuma, Matadigo, Nasiganiyavi, Koyamaibole
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Giovambattista Venditti, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Tommaso Iannone, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (capt), 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Valerio Bernabo, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Michele Campagnaro.
Fiji: 15 Metuisela Talebula, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12 Nemani Nadolo, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Serenaia Bai, 9 Nemia Kenatale, 8 Sakiusa Matadigo, 7 Akapusi Qera (c), 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotukula, 5 Wame Lewaravu, 4 Apisai Naikatini, 3 Setefano Somoca, 2 Viliame Veikoso, 1 Jereremaia Yanuyanutawa.
Replacements: 16 Seremaia Namaralevu, 17 Campese Ma'afu, 18 Manasa Saulo, 19 Sisa Koyamaibole, 20 Malakai Ravulo, 21 Nikola Matawalu, 22 Waisea Luveniyali, 23 Adriu Delai.
Venue: Stadio Zini, Cremona
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Joaquin Montes (Uruguay)
Television match official: Eric Gauzins (France)