Italy ran amok against Canada to bag their second bonus-point win in as many games with a 48-7 Rugby World Cup victory Thursday and vowed to celebrate with an “old-school night”.
It was not a perfect performance as Italy slipped at times from flair and finesse to sloppy, but they did enough to dominate seven tries to one in what was their biggest margin of victory at the World Cup.
With Italy seeking a first World Cup quarter-final berth, their maximum points from two matches sent a message to heavyweights South Africa not to underestimate them.
The Springboks, who lost their opener against New Zealand, paid a high price when they were guilty of taking Japan lightly at the last World Cup and cannot afford to do the same again when they meet Italy in Shizuoka in eight days.
“We’ve earned a few drinks tonight probably,” said Italian captain Dean Budd.
Coach Conor O’Shea revealed he had promised his team an “old-school night” after only a four-day turnaround between games, which he said was “tough for any team, mentally as well as physically”.
“You have to be pretty happy. I thought we started the game really well and that’s where we imposed ourselves,” said O’Shea.
Italy, still with the All Blacks to play as well as South Africa, showed their depth by making 10 changes to the starting XV when they beat Namibia and were still too strong for the Canadians.
A day after Uruguay’s shock win over Fiji, Canada started with hopes of achieving a similar upset.
The mostly neutral crowd in Fukuoka also gave their support to the Canadians in the 22,000-seat stadium, but it was the vastly rearranged Italian side with the superior forward pack who controlled most of the game.
In a dominant opening spell, fly-half Tommaso Allan landed a penalty and converted tries by Braam Steyn and Dean Budd.
Steyn sent Peter Nelson flying and barged between Nick Blevins and Jeff Hassler on a short-range charge at the line.
New Zealand-born second-rower Budd, filling in as captain with Sergio Parisse rested, galloped 30 metres through a non-existent defence for his try.
Italy’s explosive start realised 17 points in 15 minutes.
Canada arrested the scoring spree for the remainder of the half, but their own scoring opportunities evaporated with missed tackles, a misfiring lineout, and wrong options.
Replacement Matt Heaton dropped the ball when he had the line at his mercy after Tyler Ardron busted his way through the Italian defence.
DTH Van der Merwe confronted Italian fullback Matteo Minozzi with a two-man overlap and fed Gordon McRorie on the outside who was bustled into touch.
The second half was barely three minutes old when Italy were on the board again with Sebastian Negri scoring their third try.
Canada went close again when Van der Merwe set up Hassler but the cover defence put the wing out in the corner.
A penalty try for an illegal tackle by Heaton ensured the bonus point for Italy and reduced Canada to 14-men with Heaton in the sin bin.
Mattia Bellini stretched the lead to 36-0 before Andrew Coe scored in the right corner to get Canada on the board.
But the Italian pack, who had an impressive night, responded immediately to drive over the line for Federico Zani to touch down, and the backline followed with a long-range attack that ended with a try to Minozzi.