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Australia holds off Italy's stunning second-half comeback

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Associated Press
11/24/2012 11:29:25 AM
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FLORENCE, Italy -- Australia survived a torrid comeback from Italy to hold on to win 22-19 and barely keep their perfect winning record against the Azzurri intact on Saturday.

Australia took a 22-3 lead into halftime and nearly blew it all.

Luciano Orquera, who had knocked over each of his previous five kicks, put a penalty heartbreakingly wide in the final minute as Italy missed out on a historic first draw against Australia.

"It's frustrating that we are creating chances but we're not finishing them," Australia coach Robbie Deans said.

"It was a very good start by the lads. We didn't quite get the return we were hoping for. It was very stop-start in the second half and Italy brought a lot of pressure to bear. They played well.

"I don't think that (us switching off) was a big part of it. You can't fault the physical effort of our blokes. Clearly we weren't accurate."

Italy coach Jacques Brunel was proud of his side, which stayed in contact with New Zealand for an hour before losing 42-10 a week ago.

"It was important for us, after the game against New Zealand, to be capable of affirming ourselves at this level," Brunel said. "We are still lacking something but we succeeded.

"We're on the right path. Against the All Blacks we weren't as good in the second half and today we had difficulty in the first half. We have to manage to play at the same level for the whole 80 minutes, that's what makes the difference at this level where you pay a heavy price for every error.

"We could have drawn or won and we wouldn't have stolen anything," Brunel added. "But Orquera had an excellent game."

Italy's comeback began soon into the second half. Australia's Sitaleki Timani dropped the ball and Italy hacked it downfield for flanker Robert Barbieri to pick up and touch down. Orquera converted and added two more penalties to close the gap on the scoreboard to three with 26 minutes to go.

Winger Mirco Bergamasco was taken off on a stretcher after breaking his left kneecap and taken to hospital to be operated on overnight. The long delay to treat him failed, however, to cool the fired-up Italians.

They should have taken the lead in the 66th minute but captain and No. 8 Sergio Parisse fumbled as he fell over the line.

Wallabies winger Digby Ioane was yellow carded in the final minutes after a dangerous tackle on Simone Favaro in the air. Orquera stepped up to kick the penalty with a chance to draw, but the ball flew just wide of the right post.

The first half was all Australia. Berrick Barnes kicked the Wallabies to a 6-3 lead and their one try came in the 20th.

Flyhalf Kurtley Beale found right winger Nick Cummins in space after some quick passes through the backline, and he crossed for his second try in two weeks. Barnes converted before making another penalty from more than 50 metres.

Ten minutes later, Barbieri was issued a yellow card for slapping the ball out of scrumhalf Brett Sheehan's hands at a ruck. Beale fired in the resulting penalty to extend Australia's lead to 19 points but Sheehan eventually went off with a knee injury.

Italy's half worsened when prop Andrea Lo Cicero was forced off injured in his 98th test. He's only three caps away from former No. 9 Alessandro Troncon's national record of 101 appearances.

Italy almost scored a try at the end of the half. Andrea Masi went on a mazy run from the halfway line, booted the ball and gave chase. But his kick had too much power on it and rolled over the deadball line.

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Australia 22 (Nick Cummins try; Berrick Barnes conversion, 3 penalties, Kurtley Beale 2 penalties), Italy 19 (Robert Barbieri try; Luciano Orquera conversion, 4 penalties). HT: 22-6

Alessandro Zanni (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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