Australia recovered from a 6-6 interval scoreline to eventually overcome Italy 32-6 in a four-try performance at North Harbour Stadium on Sunday.
The Golds had struggled to shake off the Azzurri until a second-half masterclass saw them pull away from Nick Mallett’s passionate outfit.
Tries from Ben Alexander, Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor and Digby Ioane sealed matters when the rain and Italian resilience had abated.
Spectators could see that Martin Castrogiovanni and company were brimming ahead of kick-off when the heavens opened. And it proved to help their cause as Australia struggled to apply much pressure on Italy’s line, with Mirco Bergamasco and Quade Cooper knocking over two penalties apiece in an intense opening 40 minutes.
But when O’Connor emerged from the sidelines for centre Anthony Faingaa, the Wallabies soon clicked into gear and ran away with the game.
Cooper and Bergamasco were guilty of missing early attempts at goal before the Wallabies playmaker found his range on sixteen minutes before doubling his side’s lead on 31 minutes. Bergamasco made it 6-6 on the stroke of half-time after Wallaby indiscretions.
Upon the turnaround, a stolen line-out by veteran lock forward Dan Vickerman then led to wing Ioane finding a hole, which led to prop Alexander burrowing his way over the line.
O’Connor, who was left on the bench in his comeback from suspension, knocked over the two points before converting his own try, with Cooper again the provider from close-range.
Cooper was again involved in Australia’s third try when he took a ball from Cooper and went over from distance. O’Connor converted and the game was out of sight for the Italians.
Man of the match: A few years ago, this Italian pack would have been all over the Wallabies at scrum-time. But not anymore, Ben Alexander fully deserved his try and it was interesting to note that Italy’s strongest scrummage came when Alexander had been replaced.
Moment of the match: Minute 47, enter James O’Connor. The game turned on its head from that point on and it would be wrong not to attribute that, in part, to O’Connor’s arrival. He offered lines off Quade Cooper and looked keen to make up for his recent bad behaviour.
Villain of the match: Nothing shady to report.
Tries: Alexander, Ashley-Cooper, O’Connor, Ioane
Con: O’Connor 3
Pen: Cooper 2
Pen: Bergamasco 2
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Anthony Fainga’a, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 James O’Connor.
Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Fabio Semenzato, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Cornelius Van Zyl, 4 Carlo Antonio Del Fava, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D’Apice, 17 Lorenzo Cittadini, 18 Marco Bortolami, 19 Paul Derbyshire, 20 Edoardo Gori, 21 Riccardo Bocchino, 22 Luke McLean.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland))
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)