They made virtually all the running in this game, forcing the lacklustre Italians on to the back foot, exposing their gaps and very frequently opening them up completely. A haul of two tries and a losing bonus point was scant reward for their enterpriseSmelling an upset, a crowd of over 33,000 roared them on. As Canadians and energised neutrals alike began to warm to the bold underdogs, you couldsewhy the organisers of this tournament wanted it held in football’s steep-banked amphitheatres rather than more traditional rugby settings. The great virtue of big global events is their ability to paint new pictures on existing canvases, and there was a certain agreeable novelty in seeing Elland Road bathed in autumn sunshine, filled with gleeful Canucks with giant foam thumbs.
In fact, probably the only person not leaving with a smile on their face was the Leeds groundsman, whose pristine surface was gnashed to shreds by the studs of 92 furiously churning feet.
Ultimately, it was Italy’s experience that bailed them out of trouble: Martin Castrogiovanni and Mauro Bergomasco both sprang off the bench to bolster a side that looked in danger of toppling completely. Trailing 13-10 at half-time, Canada raced out of the blocks in the second half, and with a little more poise could easily have put the game to bed. They will have learned an enormous amount from this game.
They have a few hidden gems in their side, too. DTH van der Merwe was a rampaging presence, scoring one of the tries of tournament early with a barnstorming run straight from an Italian kick-off. Matt Evans, the Salisbury-born Cornish Pirates winger, was imaginative in attack and sturdy in defence. Nathan Hirayama has an intelligent kicking game, but his missed penalty and conversion ultimately proved decisive. With a little over 20-minutes left,Canada led 15-13.
So Italy turned to the old guard. On came Castrogiovanni, hair flowing like a scrawny Renaissance painter. On came Bergamasco, equalling Brian Lima’s record by playing in his fifth World Cup. And captain Leonardo Ghiraldini belatedly came to the party, his cheeky lineout and barrelling run down the right instrumental in Gonzalo Garcia’s momentum-shifting try.
Canada surged, and pulled back a penalty to close the gap to two points. But as the pressure mounted, handling errors and tiredness began to creep in. The final whistle was greeted with euphoria by the Italians; euphoria, and not a little relief.