EXETER, 11 Oct – Italy ran in four tries against Romania at Sandy Park on Sunday to secure third place in Pool D and with it a prized place at Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
Romania centre Florin Vlaicu opened the scoring with an early penalty, but Italy hit back with first-half tries from Leonardo Sarto, Edoardo Gori and Tommaso Allan to take a grip on proceedings. Alessandro Zanni’s score early in the second half then left Romania further out of reach.
Adrian Apostol (2) and Valentin Poparlan ran in late tries for Romania, but Allan’s 12 points from the boot – which pushed him to 104 in internationals – kept them at arm’s length.
From the kick-off, the anticipated forward battle quickly ensued and at the first scrum Romania’s pack shoved Italy backwards 10 metres to win a penalty that centre Vlaicu kicked to open the scoring.
Italy endured a frustrating opening. First, Luke McLean failed to clear a penalty to touch, then fly-half Allan knocked on from a simple pass and finally scrum-half Gori failed to ground the ball for a try after breaking the Romania defence, chipping their last defender Madalin Lemnaru and winning the race to the ball.
Jacques Brunel’s side continued to exert their dominance as the half continued and Michele Campagnaro showed the Sandy Park fans what they can expect when he joins Exeter Chiefs next week by setting up wing Sarto to score with a scything run through the Romania defence and a deft offload.
Unfortunately the 22-year-old was unable to finish the match and came off after 35 minutes holding his right thigh.
Romania second-row Johannes Van Heerden handed Italy an advantage when he was sent to the sin-bin midway through the half, and Gori (pictured) took advantage off the back of a scrum to slip through a gap close to the line, this time ensuring he grounded the ball correctly.
The Oaks enjoyed their best period after Van Heerden returned just before the half-hour mark, but despite their pack repeatedly hammering the Italy line they were unable to find a way past Italy’s defence, and when Paula Kinikinilau was penalised for not releasing the ball, Allan was able to clear the danger.
Italy’s third try arrived just before the break and once again man-of-the-match Gori was at the heart of it. He looped round stand-in captain Quintin Geldenhuys and popped the ball to Allan who picked a sharp line to breach the defence and outstrip the defence for his first RWC try.
The Azzurri continued to keep the tempo high after the teams returned for the second half. Both Gori and flanker Francesco Minto went close to scoring in the first five minutes before Zanni eventually powered over off the back of the scrum to secure the four-try bonus point.
Romania continued to show the effects of the shorter turnaround from their 17-15 win over Canada on Tuesday, but their replacements gave them a second wind and after centre Csaba Gal made ground, Vlaicu picked out Ionut Botezatu with a cross-kick and only the defensive combination of Sarto and Gori kept him out.
Apostol and Poparlan's late try-scoring efforts kept Romania spirits high, but by then Italy had inflicted the damage and in doing so maintain their record of featuring in every Rugby World Cup.