FUKUOKA, 26 Sep – Matteo Minozzi showed why he is such a potent player for his height in Italy’s comfortable 48-7 victory against Canada at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium on Thursday.
The Italy full-back, all 1.75m of him, drew pre-match comparisons with South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe and former Wales winger Shane Williams, a pair who stand 1.7m and make the 23-year-old appear positively statuesque.
He certainly stood tall against Canada, who tested him throughout the 80 minutes.
Minozzi showed good pace and support running to round off Italy’s scoring late on, but it was his execution of a No.15’s traditional skills that impressed most of all.
Twice he denied Canada’s wingers with the line in their sights. In the first-half he hauled down DTH Van Der Merwe with a tackle straight from the coaching manual and, in the second half, he did the same to Jeff Hassler.
Even heavyweights like Canuck captain Tyler Ardron could not escape his clutches, as pictured above.
Following the second, he showed that he had no problem using his boot, either, with a massive left-foot clearance that took play well into Canadian territory. Minozzi, below, missed the Six Nations Championship with a bad knee injury and was out of action for nearly a year.
"It was a huge injury and he had to go through tough surgery, so for him to come back was great for rugby - and for us and him,” said Italy coach Conor O’Shea.
“He is different in terms of his preparation, and he is a different type of player."
Canada were left ruing a disappointing performance in which they were ill-disciplined with and without the ball.
Italy’s first points came from a penalty that Canada conceded when they could not resist the temptation to stick their hands in a ruck.
Matt Heaton then passed up Canada’s best chance when he knocked on a Tyler Ardon pass that would have given him an open run to the line.
He was also responsible for Italy’s fourth try when he collapsed a rolling maul.
The penalty try was duly awarded and, to round off a forgettable day for the 26-year-old, he was given a yellow card for his intervention.
“I can’t fault any of the players, they kept it tight, particularly the half-backs, they took the game by the scruff of the neck and the captain led well, didn’t give inch,” Canada coach Kingsley Jones said.
“But, unfortunately, it’s a case of not taking our opportunities. We didn’t want to give penalties away, but that’s unfortunately what happened.”
Italy now face South Africa in their third game on 4 October knowing that a win is likely to put them into the quarter-finals for the first time.
Lose and they will have to defeat defending champions New Zealand for the first time to keep their knockout stage hopes alive.
“We’ll see how we go in the next two matches. We’ve already qualified for the next World Cup, which is huge, it was a goal,” O’Shea said.
“To play two matches in four days is hard physically and mentally. I am happy with how we played. I’m giving them the night off because I’m old school.”