The Wallabies’ hopes of a breakthrough Rugby Championship win at Ellis Park have suffered a blow with a number of key players including Brumbies ace Christian Lealiifano sent home.
A second-half comeback against Italy has kept Australia’s slim hopes in the World Rugby Under-20 Championship alive.
Downed by Scotland in their first game, the Aussies looked to have learned little from their opener in their first half against the Azzurri. Their ball control and game awareness was poor, and it was another error-filled display.
After going behind 10-0 they managed to turn things around with a try to winger Simon Kennewell after some built-up possession in the Italian half. Behind 10-7 at the break, Australia lifted their intensity and went ahead thanks to substitute Lukhan Lealaiaulolo-Tui, one of the biggest humans around.
This wrecking ball was brought on to make a difference and he did just that.
There were still mistakes in the Aussie game, with five-eighth Mack Mason struggling to find his passing range. Often the Australian players were passing the ball behind their runners, completely confusing and interrupting any flow to their attack.
But they edged further ahead in the 61st minute through a break on the left wing. Fullback Jack Maddocks found winger Liam McNamara, he toed the ball ahead, Maddocks kicked it on and the Italians butchered the pick up, Liam Jurd grabbing the scraps to score.
At 24-10 the result was all but sealed. The scoreline blew out to 38-10 in the final three minutes with five-pointers to the wonderfully-named Shambeckler Vui and Mack Mason after full-time.
Crucially, the Aussies picked up a bonus point with their fourth try.
The Italians were brave, resolute in defence and dominant in the set piece.
They won most of their scrums and lineouts, and their rolling maul was effective when used. However, Australia had more of the play, created more with their ball movement and took their chances when presented. The men in blue ran out of puff in the final ten minutes and were punished.
The victory was relief for the small contingent of Aussie fans and coach Adrian Thompson at the AJ Bell Stadium.
But Thompson will hardly be overjoyed with the way his side played, seemingly low on confidence and unable to build phases of play. The Australians looked nervous and somewhat out of synch in the first half.
They turned it on in the last 20 minutes, and looked great, but they can’t expect to play in patches again and beat the top teams in the competition.
Sure, the rain was belting down in Manchester but the conditions can be no excuse. The match against Scotland was played in Sydney-ish weather in November and the green and gold simply did not turn up.
With England up next this does not bode well. The Poms beat Italy 48-10 and should triumph over Scotland.
They won’t be pushovers on home soil, with a parochial crowd behind them.
England will see Australia’s woes at scrum-time and be filled with delight. They could head into the game and know a close loss will still see them through to the next round in top spot.
Wednesday’s pool decider against the hosts is shaping up to be a belter.
Follow John Davidson on Twitter @johnnyddavidson