FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Italy ended 49 years of hurt from Australia by upending the Wallabies 28-27 for the first time in test rugby on Saturday.
Wallabies debutant Ben Donaldson could have denied Italy after the fulltime hooter but his attempted conversion of Cadeyrn Neville's last-minute try flew wide.
Donaldson looked stunned as he was consoled by teammates, while the Azzurri rushed to embrace each other in wild celebrations in front of more than 20,000 supporters in Stadio Artemio Franchi.
Italy had lost all 18 previous contests with Australia dating to 1973.
“So many amazing emotions, it’s an incredible victory,” Italy hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi said. “We felt we could do it from the first minute. We went out on the field with the right spirit, we attacked and defended really well."
Most of the damage was done in the first half when Italy took full advantage of Jake Gordon’s yellow card in the 15th minute. Italy zipped in tries to wing Pierre Bruno and fullback Ange Capuozzo's first of two. They built a 14-point lead and stayed in front.
“We didn’t play well enough,” Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said. “Too many penalties. We gave them a head start, 17-3 gave them a lot of hope and enthusiasm and brought the crowd into the game.
“We’re well aware of the strengths of the Italian side so we needed to start well and we didn’t.”
Australia goes to Ireland next weekend for the fourth test of its five-match tour, while the Azzurri host world champion South Africa, which it famously beat in 2016 — also in Florence.
“There are no limits,” Lucchesi said.
With the rigors of a long tour in mind, the Wallabies were revamped with 11 changes from last week’s one-point defeat in France. They still came through with tries by Tom Wright, Fraser McReight and Tom Robertson.
Italy was forced into a late change after playmaker Paolo Garbisi had a toe injury and was replaced by Tommaso Allan. Allan got the scoreboard ticking with an early penalty but missed his second chance.
When Allan was smashed over the touchline by a late shoulder hit from Wallabies scrumhalf Gordon, who was sin-binned, the Azzurri pounced.
Held up close to the tryline, Luca Morisi lobbed the ball to Bruno, who scored in the right corner. Then just as Gordon’s time in the sin-bin was ending, Capuozzo dummied to Bruno before bursting down the right flank and diving over in the corner for another converted try and 17-3.
The Wallabies responded with Wright's acrobatic try in the corner after a great throw from flyhalf Noah Lolesio. However, despite two attempts at the conversion due to an early encroachment by Italy, Lolesio couldn’t add the extras.
Australia reduced the deficit to 17-15 after halftime when McReight crashed over to the left of the posts.
Allan dragged a penalty wide but made no mistake minutes later after Australia captain Allan Alaalatoa was penalized at a ruck.
Another strong Italian scrum earned the hosts another penalty but Allan missed again from around 40 meters.
But that was quickly forgotten when wing Montanna Ioane carried the ball into the Australian 22 and Capuozzo burst through a hole for his second try. Italy led 25-15 with 15 minutes left.
Allan missed another penalty chance and Italy gave Australia hope in the 67th when it made a mess of a penalty and Ned Hanigan slipped the ball to Robertson to cross, and the deficit was just three.
Edoardo Padovani missed a penalty kick after replacing Allan but nailed a second chance to lead 28-22 with five to go.
The Azzurri looked like they were going to miss out on history when Neville grabbed Tate McDermott’s pass and burst across, but Donaldson couldn't convert on a day when Italy missed five goalkicks and Australia missed two.
“Certainly we will celebrate tonight, a win of this kind in an official test match needs to be enjoyed,” Italy’s New Zealand coach Kieran Crowley said. “Today the boys showed that they are ready to die for this shirt, and that is a really important quality that should be acknowledged and that we should always start from.
“Beating Australia is a great result … the significance of such a result is important for the fans, for the movement but above all for the team, which always give 110% in every single training session. They really deserve it, I’m happy mainly for them.”
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