By Frankie Deges in Chile
Italy have secured a swift return to the IRB Junior World Championship stage after beating Canada 45-23 in a pulsating final at the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in the southern hemisphere city of Temuco on Sunday.
The Azzurrini were relegated from the elite tier after losing the 11th place play-off to Fiji in South Africa last year, but just as in 2010 they won the Trophy to ensure they will be among the top 12 nations contesting the Championship in New Zealand in 2014.
With a solid team that performed well in each of their four matches, and ably led by full back Angelo Esposito, the Italians overcame a spirited Canadian side who last played on the JWC stage in 2009.
Italy made their intentions clear from kick-off. Not a minute had gone before scrum half Marcello Violi crossed for the opening try to the delight of his teammates. The lead was soon stretched with a penalty by Edoardo Padovani.
Canada went back to basics, playing percentage, intelligent rugby and making a number of line breaks with captain Pat Kay leading from the front. They could have scored a couple of times but for the robust Italian defence and had to be content with two penalties by Shane O’Leary to go in trailing 10-6 at half time.
In the second half, both teams went all out for the win. Italy scored first through Maxime Mbanda after a lineout but then the Canadians replied with a penalty and then a lineout move which caught the Italians wrong-footed, hooker Alex Mascott coming round to score in the right corner. O’Leary’s well-educated boot converted and it was game on at 17-16.
The perfect farewell
However, repeated infringements saw Kay and prop Djustice Sears-Duru sin-binned almost at the same time and the Italians took advantage of their extra men. From a scrum, they were awarded a penalty try and, soon after, two more tries were scored through Filippo Guarducci and Violi to take them out to 38-16.
When the Canadians were back to 15 they did manage a try to narrow the gap through Kay but as the match was coming to the end, centre Michele Campagnaro dotted down and the Italian celebrations began in earnest.
“I have no words to describe this moment," admitted Esposito. "We are overjoyed that we have taken Italy back to the JWC. The way the public supported this tournament was incredible and it certainly pushed us to play our best rugby.”
Coach Gianluca Guidi added: “We treated every game like a final and we studied every opponent to ensure we were ready for the challenges. This is my last tournament with the national team and I retire with the joy of the win.”
For Canada, despite the loss, captain Kay and coach Mike Shelley were able to find positives with Kay admitting "we did everything we could and can go home happy that we have a good squad for next year.”
A veteran of three tournaments, Shelley felt that the 2013 edition in Temuco “had been the best of them all. Going from sixth last year to second in 2013 is thanks to a long-term project that we hope will put us again in a position to play for the trophy.”
Italy will replace the team finishing 12th at the IRB Junior World Championship 2013, which continues in France until 23 June.
By Frankie Deges in Chile