Italy made it 14 tries in two Rugby World Cup wins and nearly 100 points scored after crushing Canada 48-7 on Thursday.
Only two missed conversions blotted a one-sided contest where Italy’s forwards completely dominated to give the Azzurri a record margin of victory at the World Cup, surpassing the 53-17 victory over Russia eight years ago.
“I’m glad we were able to put on a bit of a show,” said coach Conor O’Shea, who is rewarding his players with an “old school” night out since they have a long turnaround before facing South Africa.
“We’ve got eight days now and we can enjoy ourselves tonight. The boys will probably go longer than I will. But they need to release the energy. One of the mental challenges, when you play emotionally at this level, is to release all that energy.”
They have cause to celebrate a little.
The win all but ensures Italy a 2023 World Cup-qualifying third place in Pool B unless Namibia and Canada can win twice – which means having to beat either New Zealand or South Africa to do so.
Canada next faces three-time champion New Zealand, the defending champion, on Wednesday and Italy takes on two-time winner South Africa two days later.
Italy was rusty last Sunday in beating Namibia 47-22, and eager to made amends.
“Looking on the last performance we were a bit scrappy. It looked a lot tighter and a lot better,” Italy’s England-born flanker Jake Polledri said. “That’s our philosophy, (to) play without fear, and that’s what we did today.”
Quick tries came from No. 8 Braam Steyn and lock Dean Budd, the stand-in captain for Sergio Parisse.
Both were converted by flyhalf Tommaso Allan, who added a penalty to help Italy lead 17-0 at the interval.
Flanker Sebastian Negri’s converted try made it 24-0 shortly after the break.
A penalty try; one try each from winger Mattia Bellini and replacement prop Federico Zani, and a late effort from impressive fullback Matteo Minozzi concluded the rout.
“We gave too many penalties away and allowed Italy into areas we didn’t want,” Canada coach Kingsley Jones said. “They are a very good side and they punished us.”
Fullback Andrew Coe got a consolation try for Canada, which lost all four group matches at the last World Cup.
“I don’t think anyone had anything left in the tank, we gave it everything we’ve got,” Canada No. 8 Tyler Ardron said. “All credit to Italy, they exposed us when they had their chances and we didn’t finish ours off.”
In humid conditions at Fukuoka’s Hakatanomori Stadium, it was not long before Steyn bulldozed over from the scrum after great work from Polledri – who stood with 16 carries, four off-loads and 14 defenders beaten.
When the sides met four years ago at the World Cup, it was Canada racing 10-0 ahead and Italy storming back to win.
But there seemed little chance of a Canada comeback. From a ruck, scrumhalf Callum Braley fed Budd and he broke a weak tackle.
Canada’s most dangerous move of the opening half ended with a clumsy knock on. Ardron and replacement flanker Matt Heaton botched a basic 2-on-1 because Heaton dropped the pass with a try under the crossbar beckoning.
More fine work from Polledri led to Negri’s first try for Italy.
Then, after hooker Luca Bigi had a try ruled out for not grounding the ball, Italy was given a penalty try when Heaton illegally sacked a maul. He got sinbinned and Bellini soon got the fifth try when the irrepressible Polledri set him up.
With 64 minutes played, an Ardron try for Canada was disallowed by referee Nigel Owens because a review showed a forward pass off the arm of centre Ben Lesage.
Canada finally scored when flyhalf Peter Nelson set up Coe, who beat Italy’s covering defence with a neat sidestep.
Nelson converted well to cheers from the neutrals in the crowd of 22,000.