The Wallabies have held off a fast-finishing Italy to escape with a heart-stopping 40-27 win in Saturday’s final June Test in Brisbane.
Australia looked like it was coasting to victory when Sefa Naivalu scored his second try early in the second half, giving them a 28-13 lead at Lang Park.
But two tries to the Azzurri — both coming directly from Wallaby mistakes — reduced the margin to just one point, and a yellow card to replacement prop Toby Smith put them right in the hunt for their first win against Australia.
First, Dane Haylett-Petty spilled a high cross-field kick in the 64th minute while standing just forward of the tryline, coughing the ball up to Edoardo Padovani to gift a five-pointer.
Then minutes later, a Rory Arnold pass was intercepted by Tommaso Benevenuti, who went on to score himself and make it 28-27.
But the pressure building on the Wallabies was relieved when Abraham Steyn was yellow-carded for a deliberate knockdown, erasing Italy’s one-man advantage — and then Bernard Foley and Reece Hodge both crossed for late tries to close the door on the brave, under-strength Italians.
Edoardo Padovani crosses the line as Italy puts an almity scare through Wallabies ranks. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
In front of 21,849 fans, it was an improved performance in parts from the Australians, who were keen to atone for their limp defeat last weekend to Scotland.
Yet there was nothing that will fill supporters with confidence ahead of the team’s next assignment, their daunting Bledisloe Cup opener on August 19 against New Zealand.
Man-of-the-match Israel Folau scored his third-consecutive double, while Naivalu’s two-try haul provided them with the pace they had been sorely missing — only for the Fijian flyer to trudge off early in the second half with a twisted ankle.
The Azzurri, ranked number 15 in the world, were missing around seven of their best players but still caused all sorts of problems for the Wallabies.
They could have gone 10-0 up after seven minutes were it not for a contentious call from television match official Ben Skeen. He disallowed lock Dean Budd’s try because winger Gio Vendetti still had a fingertip on the ball as he was dragged out of touch while attempting to pass.
While the Wallabies soon woke up, a better side would have put Italy away when they had the chance, instead of losing the ascendancy so easily.