Italy battle to beat plucky Portugal in Paris

Italy recorded their second unconvincing win in as many World Cup group-C matches when they were made to work hard for a 31-5 victory against minnows Portugal at the Parc des Princes in Paris on Wednesday.

Italy, 16-5 ahead at the break after a fine try from Portugal second-rower David Penalva, didn’t score again until the 63rd minute through a penalty by fullback David Bortolussi—who landed six of his seven goal kicks.

Eight minutes from time, Italy flanker Mauro Bergamasco was driven over by the pack from close range for a try.

Italy, who needed four tries for a bonus point, scored their third, and Andrea Masi his second, three minutes from time, when the centre collected outside-half Roland de Marigny’s chip ahead under the posts.

But Portugal, who looked like being overwhelmed by Italy’s traditional forward strength late on, kept going to deny their opponents the extra point.

It was hard to believe that Italy had thrashed Portugal 83-0 as recently as October in a World Cup qualifier and beaten both Wales and Scotland in this season’s Six Nations.

Italy were led out by Alessandro Troncon, instead of captain Marco Bortolami, as the scrumhalf became only the eighth player in international rugby-union history to win 100 caps.

The Azzurri, lacklustre 24-18 winners last time out against Romania, seemed determined to mark the occasion in style when in the fourth minute Troncon and De Marigny combined to release Masi, who scythed through the defence for a try under the posts.
Bortolussi converted and Italy were 7-0 up.

This was, however, not the cue for the Azzurri to pile on the points. In the eighth minute, they were temporarily reduced to 14 men when lock Bortolami was yellow-carded by South African referee Marius Jonker for punching.

Italy, perhaps conscious that Scotland, their rivals for quarterfinal qualification behind pool leaders New Zealand, had scored a bonus point against Portugal, butchered several try-scoring chances through anxious forward passes and knock-ons despite dominating both possession and territory. They had to settle instead for three first-half Bortolussi penalties.

It was not until the 32nd minute when impressive outside-half Duarte Cardoso Pinto kicked a penalty to touch that Portugal entered the Italian 22. But a minute later the underdogs had a try, to add to those they had scored against the All Blacks and Scotland, with a slick handling move that was in marked contrast to the Azzurri’s efforts.

Portugal won the line-out, Cardoso Pinto burst forward and an overlap on the right was swiftly exploited as lock Penalva went over in the corner to the delight of the crowd. Cardoso Pinto missed the difficult conversion.

The Portuguese complete their pool programme against Romania in Toulouse on September 25, four days before Italy’s crunch game with Scotland in St Etienne.—AFP

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