AUCKLAND, New Zealand, September 11 – The Wallabies emerged from a first half struggle to turn on the after-burners for a comprehensive 32-6 win over Italy to spectacularly open their World Cup campaign at North Harbour on Sunday.
Locked up at 6-6 at halftime after first-half trench warfare, Australia cut loose with 26 unanswered second half points to score a bonus point four-try victory and safely launch their bid for a third Webb Ellis Cup.
The Wallabies mastered the accomplished Azzurri forward pack in blustery conditions to set the platform for their exciting backline to unleash their speed and ball skills.
Fly-half Quade Cooper quelled the crowd boos with a scintillating attacking performance, providing the final pass for three tries.
Winger James O’Connor also paid his penance for missing an official pre-World Cup team function and came off the bench seven minutes after halftime to take over the goalkicking duties from Cooper.
“We didn’t help ourselves in the first half. We were a little bit impatient and wanting that to come and overplayed our hand in the way we attacked,” coach Robbie Deans said.
“We got the balance of our attack a little bit more effective in the second half so we were able to build more pressure and the Italians took some breaking down”
Such was the Wallaby dominance that Deans was able to bring off some of his big guns — Will Genia, Rocky Elsom, Dan Vickerman and David Pocock — and save them for the tournament.
Italy coach Nick Mallett said he was very happy with Azzurri’s first half but credited Australia’s attack in the second term.
“When they do get quick front foot ball they are a very difficult side to defend against,” he said.
“We had a couple of opportunities in the second half particularly from a push-over try when the ball wasn’t controlled at the back of the scrum, but all in all I’m pretty happy.”
Cooper’s first penalty attempt was greeted with boos from New Zealanders in the crowd following his ‘public enemy number one’ run-ins with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
Australia got their first points after a whistle-happy opening 18 minutes when hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini was penalised for a late hit on Cooper.
Cooper, again to boos, landed the penalty with points hard earned in the swirling wind.
The Wallaby forwards hammered through the phases inside Italy’s quarter before another penalty by Cooper carved out a 6-0 after 30 hard-fought minutes.
The Italian pack had their first sustained drive inside Australia’s half and earned a penalty which winger Mirco Bergamasco kicked for 6-3 minutes before the interval.
Cooper then inexplicably elected to run a retrieved kick rather than kick it out and gifted Bergasmasco a second penalty in front right on halftime to draw the teams level.
The Wallaby scrum was more than holding its own against the Azzurri as O’Connor was introduced after 47 minutes for Anthony Fainga’a with Adam Ashley-Cooper moving into the centres.
Digby Ioane broke free and linked with Radike Samo and Kurtley Beale before prop Ben Alexander powered over from a maul close to the line in the 51st minute for the Wallabies to edge to a 11-6 lead.
Gaps starting opening up in the tiring Italian defence and Cooper put Ashley-Cooper over untouched for the Wallabies’ second try five minutes later as the Australians stormed to a 18-6 lead.
O’Connor got into the act for the team’s third try off an inside ball from Cooper with the Wallabies in full flow.
Ioane clinched the scoring bonus point with the fourth try off Cooper’s pass again 13 minutes from time.
Italy’s day finished on a worrying note with talisman tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni limping off near the end with an apparent groin injury.