Coach Michael Cheika said Australia were improving and would be ready to take on New Zealand in the Rugby Championship after fighting off Italy 40-27 yesterday.
Late tries to Bernard Foley and Reece Hodge staved off the threat of a second shock defeat following last week’s loss to Scotland, after Italy had narrowed the scores to 28-27 with 10 minutes left.
The nature of the win will do little to ease the pressure on the hosts, who were criticised ruthlessly both by media and supporters following the 24-19 defeat to Scotland.
Australia’s next game is against New Zealand on August 19, but Cheika was upbeat about their chances against the world champions.
“We know there’s a lot of things we need to do, but we’ve got to just go for the critical few that we can achieve over the next block of time,” Cheika said.
“From there we have to get ourselves a strategy that we can compete against them.
“We’ll know a bit more after we watch them play the three-match series against the (British and Irish) Lions.”
Italy, the Six Nations wooden-spooners, came into the match after consecutive losses to Scotland and Fiji and without a win against Australia in their 16 previous meetings.
“There is a mentality (in the team) that if we work hard and make changes and we get the support we need, we will become a competitive country again,” said visiting coach Conor O’Shea.
“As we get fitter and stronger we will get more self-belief. I’m gutted we lost — we didn’t come here to come second.”
Italy opened the scoring in just the second minute with a Tommaso Allan penalty, before they were denied minutes later when lock Dean Budd appeared to score in the corner.
However, the television match official ruled that winger Giovambattista Venditti’s boot had scraped the touchline with one fingertip still touching the ball as he passed infield to Budd.
“He must have fat fingers,” O’Shea joked.
The Wallabies, who had hardly been in the Italian half, hit the lead after 15 minutes when Sefa Naivalu scorched 40 metres down the touchline to score.
Foley converted to make it 7-0, which became 14-0 minutes later when Israel Folau scored in the corner.
Folau was in again 10 minutes before the break when inside centre Karmichael Hunt found the fullback with a long, flat pass to beat the Italian defence.
However, the Italians struck back just before the break with a superb try to outside centre Michele Campagnaro, who burst onto a ball following a midfield break by Venditti and outpaced the Wallaby defence.
Five minutes after the restart Naivalu crossed for his second following some slick backline work from the Wallabies, including a between-the-legs pass from Foley.
The Italians refused to give in and they got back into the contest when Wallabies winger Dane Haylett-Petty spilled a cross-field kick into the arms of Italian fullback Edoardo Padovani, who scored in the corner.
Australia’s lead shrank to 28-27 when replacement Tommaso Benvenuti intercepted a Rory Arnold pass in the Australian 22 and crossed despite Folau’s desperate tackle.
The Wallabies lost prop Toby Smith to a yellow card for repeated scrum infringements, but Italy also went down to 14 men when Abraham Steyn was yellow-carded for playing the ball while on the ground.
Foley burst through the Italian defensive line to settle Australian jitters, and then Hodge grabbed a try at the death as he burst down the line.
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