LEEDS, 26 Sept -Canada coach Kieran Crowley believes a lack of big-game experience in 15s rugby proved the difference as his spirited side went down 23-18 to Italy at Elland Road in Leeds on Saturday.

Italy fought back from 10-0 down after 16 minutes to register their first points in Pool D and end a six-match losing streak as flanker Mauro Bergamasco equalled Brian Lima’s record of playing in five Rugby World Cups for Samoa.

Shattering defeat

"If we had more games at this level we would certainly be able to manage them a little bit better," Crowley said, admitting that he and his players were "shattered" by the result.

"We've got players out there in key positions who are only having five or six games at 15s in the last three years, and we're getting on to the big stage and having teams who play 40-odd games a year."

Switching off

Canada captain Tyler Ardron, making his Rugby World Cup debut after missing the 50-7 loss to Ireland, agreed with his coach and said consistency was key. "If we had 23 guys who played 30 or 40 games a year, I don't think things like that would happen. Eighty minutes is a long time and it's too easy to switch off."

DTH Van Der Merwe (pictured) scored one of the tries of the tournament as Canada raced into a 10-0 lead, before Italy hit back with a converted try from Michele Rizzo and two penalties from the boot of Tommaso Allan.

Canada exploded out of the blocks in the second half as full-back Matt Evans dived over in the corner to put the Canucks 15-13 ahead. With Canada’s forwards holding their own, Italy brought on the veteran Bergamasco, whose presence at a ruck on the Canadian line was the platform for Italy to shovel the ball to Gonzalo Garcia, the centre barrelling over close to the posts for 20-15.

Canada were then awarded a 71st-minute penalty only metres from the Italian line but opted to kick for goal rather than push for a try.

Last touch of ball

"We were thinking of doing a Japanese thing," Crowley said, referring to the Brave Blossoms’ last-ditch win over South Africa. "But the ironic thing about it is I don't think we touched the ball again."

Allan added a final three points with a penalty to round off a valuable, if unconvincing, 23-18 win which lifts Italy into third in Pool D, with four points after two matches. Canada, meanwhile, earned a losing point to move above Romania and into fourth place.

Bergamasco was phlegmatic about his record-equalling feat: "I haven't reached my objectives yet. My first aim was to get into the 31-man squad, then to play. Today I was on the bench. The beer can wait till later."

The only injury concern for Italy ahead of their game against Ireland, on 4 October, involves captain Leonardo Ghiraldini, who was helped off the field with an apparent injury to his right leg after 58 minutes and will be assessed by medical staff on Sunday.

RNS ph/ns