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It's pasta joke! Rennie defends mass changes as discipline a killer again in first-ever loss to Italy

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12th November, 2022
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Ben Donaldson, five minutes into his Wallaby debut, missed a conversion after the siren as Italy beat Australia for the first time in their 19 attempts over 39 years in front of a delirious crowd in Florence.

The Wallabies never led before falling 28-27. Cadeyrn Neville crossed after fulltime but replacement flyhalf Donaldson pushed his attempt wide and his Wallabies teammates rushed to comfort him.

The Italians should have iced the game earlier but for some of the worst goalkicking you can imagine at international level. Tommaso Allan missed three penalties and a conversion and Edoardo Padovani muffed a penalty from in front as they let 14 points go begging.

Australia has now beaten Scotland by a point and lost to France and Italy by the same margin in the past two weeks.

Dave Rennie made 11 changes to his starting lineup for Sunday’s match which became 12 when Nick Frost was ruled out the day before the game.

“To me [the result] goes back to 12 changes,” said Drew Mitchell on Stan Sport. “Subconsciously it gives you the mindset that you’re expected to win this. That was poor coaching. Seventh in the world, you’re not in a position to make 12 changes.”

The Wallabies missed 17 tackles and gave away 16 penalties to nine.

“The general theme in review will be around discipline which is a similar theme for the Wallabies with the inaccuracy around tackle height, around making smart decisions on when to really challenge and walk the line of that gray area of laws to put pressure on the opposition,” said Morgan Turinui.

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Rennie said: “We put ourselves under pressure throughout. Discipline’s been better the last couple of weeks but not good enough today. Too many turnovers especially at the breakdown.

“You can’t give a team like Italy that sort of start. We wanted to deny them opportunities and take the crowd out of the game but they got out to a quick 17-3 and got a lot of belief out of that.

“We’re bitterly disappointed with our performance – not good enough.”

The pressure will increase on Rennie after this defeat but he’s been given the green light through to the World Cup by Rugby Australia.

“I don’t think he’s going anywhere,” said Turinui. “I’m impressed with a lot of the work he’s done. I don’t see an obvious, better solution. You’ve got to have a better viable solution. I think Dave Rennie’s doing a fine job with the players he has.”

Rennie played down the changes as a factor.

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“We didn’t plan to make that many. We lost two or three from the French game. We had a good enough side on to win tonight. We had confidence in those guys and they prepared well. We didn’t play well enough.”

Justin Harrison said the lack of cohesion was evident.

“No one walks into a Test arena without absolute intent to meet the opponent with everything you’ve got,” the former Wallaby lock said.

“The difficulty tonight was 12 of those players haven’t played much Test rugby together – they weren’t good at finding a solution together under extreme pressure.”

Italy showed greater cohesion and intent from the start, having swept aside Samoa last weekend, and they led after two minutes through Italy No. 10 Allan.

Australian No.10 Noah Lolesio levelled it up after six minutes but the discipline issues that have become a recurring and seemingly unsolvable issue for Rennie’s team continued.

On 15 minutes scrumhalf Jake Gordon received a yellow card when he ran across Allan as he chipped and chased down the left touchline. Gordon bundled the Italy flyhalf into touch and got himself a 10 minute spell.

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Italy’s response was ruthless and they crossing twice in Gordon’s absence. The first came after some sustained pressure on the Aussie tryline and a well weighted pass from Luca Morisi put Pierre Bruno over.

Then, as Gordon was preparing to return to the field, the hosts scored a beautiful five-pointer with fullback Ange Capuozzo surging in with an angled run and through to the line unopposed.

The Wallabies were stung into action and Lolesio set Tom Wright up for a spectacular finish wide on the left wing, the Aussie flying into the corner post with his body suspended outside the touch line as he reached down to place the ball.

Tom Wright of Australia scores a try as Pierre Bruno tries to push him into touch during the Autumn International match between Italy and Australia at Stadio Artemio Franchi on November 12, 2022 in Florence, Italy. (Photo by Timothy Rogers/Getty Images)

Tom Wright of Australia scores a spectacular try. (Photo by Timothy Rogers/Getty Images)

The Wallabies probed for another try just before halftime but Italy’s impressive No.8 Lorenzo Cannone forced a turn over to preserve a 17-8 halftime lead.

“I think everyone was surprised how they started but they’ve played some fantastic rugby,” said All Blacks legend Andrew Mehrtens.

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“They’re actually playing better heads up rugby at the moment than the Wallabies. It’s understandable with a lot of new combinations just trying to go through their moves, but the Italians are getting a real read on it on defence, the crowd’s really coming to life when they see those big hits going in.

“When they’ve spread the ball wide they’ve got word and got into the excitement of the likes of Capuozzo, who’s absolutely lightning.

“He’s one of the most electric and exciting players in Europe and the crowd has really got into it and he longer Italy’s in this game it’s real danger for Australia.”

Rennie isn’t one for a Michael Cheika style rocket but the Wallabies emerged for the second half as if they’d been given a few harsh truths.

Lolesio and Hunter Paisami were finding early joy with runs over the gain line and within three minutes of the resumption Fraser McReight ploughed over under timid defence to cut the gap to two points.

On 51 minutes Allan missed a sitter from in front but skipper Allan Alaalatoa followed Will Skelton into a maul and was penalised, allowing Allan an instant shot at redemption which he seized for a 20-15 lead.

The Aussies got a chance to hit back instantly with a lineout near the Italy line but Folau Fainga’a, whose throwing was awry at crucial times against France, executed poorly again and the chance was lost.

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It was the end of the road for Fainga’a as he was instantly dragged for Lachie Lonergan, Tate McDermott replacing Gordon at the same time.

One of Lonergan’s first touches saw him pinged for a crooked throw – the frustration growing on the field and in the coaches’ box – and Italy went into the final 20 minutes with an upset in grasp.

Capuozzo extended the lead on 65 minutes with a thrilling dart to the line.

“He’s a very similar sort of a player to Cheslin Kolbe,” said Mehrtens. “There’s not much of him but he is just rapid and he looks for space, and he finds it well.”

Australian prop Tom Robertson gave away a penalty to release pressure before he made amends. A midfield break found Ned Hanigan and he fed Robertson to cross in the corner. As rubbish as the Italian kickers were, Lolesio stepped up to nail his conversion from the corner, to make it a three point ball game.

Allan was off the field and Edoardo Padovani took over the kicking. He had a simple kick in front and bent it like Beckham under the cross bar. He had another chance five minutes from the end and got it off the ground and through the sticks.

The Aussies got one last chance via back to back penalty advantages. Opting for a scrum instead of the lineout that has proven problematic, Neville stormed over 10 metres in from touch on the left.

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Donaldson, on for Lolesio, stepped up and faded his kick across the face of goal.

“There are some peaks and troughs coming through from the Wallabies,” said Justin Harrison on Stan Sport. “We’re seeing a consistent style of play and consistent attitude in how they want to present in a Wallaby jersey but let’s not forget that this Italian side played very well today.

“They scored some great tries. They had their back three very well disciplined in the kicking duels and their tight five were enormous.”

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