NELSON, New Zealand - Italy secured a bonus point in a battling 27-10 victory over a resilient United States on Tuesday, setting up the Pool C match against Ireland in five days' time to determine one Rugby World Cup quarterfinal spot.
The Italians gave a patchy performance at Trafalgar Park despite a glut of possession from a lop-sided 19-7 penalty count. Because of the Americans' tenacious scrambling defence, the Azzurri were forced to wait until the 66th minute for its fourth try — and the bonus competition point — from a penalty try.
No. 8 Sergio Parisse, flyhalf Luciano Orquera and tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni scored in the first half for Italy, while U.S. fullback Chris Wyles scored a stunning first-phase try after receiving a pass following centre Paul Emerick's bust from a lineout.
Italy needed a bonus point to help its calculations for the quarterfinals, which could come down to tries and points scored in the tournament if the Italians beat Ireland on Sunday.
But the U.S. defence held firm for long stretches, three times denying the Italians from scoring a try with the assistance of the video referee. Eventually the pressure at the scrum told, Irish referee George Clancy awarding a penalty try to relieve the tension in the Italian camp.
"We're happy. Obviously we'll take the five points — that was the important thing for us," Parisse said. "The USA gave us a lot of hard work. We scored four tries, that's important. Now we're looking forward for the last match against Ireland with a lot of confidence."
U.S. coach Eddie O'Sullivan had said beforehand that his expectations were limited to wanting his players, in their last match, to test Italy.
He wasn't disappointed. Outmatched at scrum time, the U.S. midfield defence was ferocious with Todd Clever particularly inspirational. He made crunching hits, stole turnovers and won a personal duel with Italy's similarly talismanic captain, Parisse.
The U.S. had just 36 per cent of field territory and was forced to play from deep when the ball was secured — usually from a lineout that stole five throws or half the Italian total — but still showed inventiveness and a willingness to take risks.
"We gave it all we had. At the end it wasn't enough against a strong Italian side," Clever said. "I'm just super proud of the guys ... We're going to be a great team in the near future."
Playing with a considerable tailwind, Italy made the best possible start when Parisse crashed over under the posts in the third minute.
Winger Mirco Bergamasco went through a couple of tackles down the left flank into the opposing quarter, hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini took a hit-up to carry on the momentum, before the ball was then spread wide to find Parisse charging up the middle to go over untouched.
Six minutes later, winger Tommaso Benvenuti could have extended Italy's lead but he fumbled trying to regather a grubber kick.
But Italy was struggling to deal with the Americans' vigorous defence and work at the breakdown, particularly Clever.
And it was the player dubbed Captain America whose lineout win led to Wyles scoring the levelling try in the 18th minute. Emerick busted through some feeble defence and drew Italy fullback Luke McLean to give Wyles a converted try.
Bergamasco and Wyles traded penalties in the next 10 minutes for the teams to remain locked together. But Orquera sliced through from close range for to score for a 15-10 lead in the 30th after some adept mauling and pick-and-go work from his forwards.
Castrogiovanni was held up over the line not long before the break, but the bearded behemoth wasn't to be denied in first-half injury time. He ensured Italy's sustained pressure on the U.S. line was rewarded by scrambling over for a 20-10 halftime lead.
Italy couldn't make its considerable possession and territory advantage count as time slipped away after the break and the pressure mounted for the all-important fourth try.
U.S. blindside flanker Louis Stanfill was sin-binned for one scrummaging infringement too many, and still the Americans held firm.
It couldn't last. One scrum too many went down, and Clancy ran under the posts to signal the try. The Americans, however, were unbowed.