Riccardo Bocchino kicked three penalties and two conversions as Italy beat the United States 30-10, running in three tries on Saturday.
Carlo Festuccia, Edoardo Gori and Kris Burton all touched down for Italy, who led 20-10 at half-time at Compass Stadium in front of a crowd of 17,214 at the downtown Houston stadium.
It was the first clash between Italy and the US since Italy defeated the Americans 27-10 in a pool match at the World Cup in September.
The Americans went into the match with the same line-up they used to beat Georgia 36-20 last week in Colorado.
The Eagles put up a hard fought effort against Italy, with only 13 men for much of the second half, but came away on the losing end of an encouraging effort.
Andrew Suniula and Paul Emerick were both sent off with red cards in the 44th and 65th minute respectively.
The remaining 13 men fought as hard as possible and at times threatened, but ball handling errors on a muggy night and a staunch Italian defence kept the US just out of reach.
The US was under pressure almost from the get-go when Italy picked up a Chris Biller line-out throw that went long. The ball hit the deck about 10 meters out, and Italian Hooker Carlo Festuccia caught the lucky bounce to waltz into the try zone almost untouched putting Italy on top 7-0 after three minutes.
The slippery ball caused several knock-ons for both teams in the phases to follow. The temperature hovered in the 90°F (32°C), even after the sun went down, but a light breeze helped keep the temperature bearable for the crowd. To be sure though, it was hot, damp, and the ball was slick.
The US attack started to gather momentum, putting together some solid phases highlighted by probing runs from the forward pack. The Italians were pinged for not rolling away, and Chris Wyles got the Eagles on the board with a penalty kick from 22 meters out to close the Italian lead to 7-3.
From the ensuing kickoff though, the US was penalized for obstruction while collecting the restart, and flyhalf Riccardo Bocchino slotted the penalty to put the Italians lead back to seven.
The next 10 minutes would feature plenty of back and forth for both teams. The Italian scrum gave the Eagles fits, but the visitors handling blew plenty of opportunities for them.
Paul Emerick was his usual battering-ram self and the US were getting go forward ball. The Eagles picked up a penalty around midfield in the 27th minute and kicked for touch. From the following line-out, Roland Suniula would straighten his run, suck in defenders, and offload to Emerick who ran a fantastic line through the defence and dove over for the first and only US try of the match. The conversion was good, and the match was tied at 10.
Italy's struck right back with a penalty in the 34th minute, and just one minute later, No.9 Edoardo Gori showed Luke Hume a show-and-go on the wing to open a gap and sprint 30 meters for an try to the Azzuri. The score now 20-10 with 5 minutes left in the opening stanza.
Emotions were clearly running high early in the second half when Andrew Suniula was shown a red card for a late hit on Italy's No.10 Riccardo Bocchino. Once the dust up was cleared, Suniula was shown the door, and the Eagles would have to play with a man down for the rest of the match.
The intensity continued to rise for the next 10 minutes. Big hits back and forth for both teams signaled their intentions to not go quietly. A big up and under kick from the US bounced around and all of a sudden Eric Fry found himself in open space. With the audience erupting, Fry offloaded to Paul Emerick who made big inroads into the Italian defence. Again handling would be a big issue for the US as the ball squirted to the deck.
Chris Wyles was given a shot at goal in the 62nd minute, but the ball fell short, and the score remained 20-10
With only 14 Eagles on the field, the Azzuri looked dangerous, but the US defence was holding. In the 66th minute, a big line break from Luca Morisi ended up in a knock on about 10 meters out, and the Eagles would escape trouble.
The hits were big and aggression still running high for both teams, and Paul Emerick would be a victim of over aggression when he too was shown a red card for a shoulder charge. With 15 minutes still left to play the US would play on with only 13 men.
The defensive effort from the US that followed was at times inspiring, but with two men down, was unsustainable. Bocchino slotted another penalty after the US was penalized trying to hang on in defence. 23–10 was the score, closing in on 10 minutes to play.
Luke Hume almost put the Eagles back on the board, quick tapping off an Italian penalty and using his fast feet to dance down field. Mike Petri kept the quick ball rolling, almost put Scott Lavalla into space, but the ball left his hands forward and the US's progress was halted by a knock on.
In the end, the two-man advantage was an obstacle the Eagles couldn't overcome, and No.21 Kristopher Shaun Burton put the final nail in the coffin for the US, diving over for a try in 77th minute. The US defence had held, but just not long enough.
Overall it was an extremely entertaining game of rugby for the record setting crowd in Houston.
For the United States:
Tries: Festuccio, Edoardo, Burton
Cons: Bocchino 3
Pens: Bocchino 3
Red cards: Andrew Suniula (United States, 44 - foul play, late hit), Paul Emerick (United State, 65 - foul play, shoulder charge)
United States: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 James Paterson, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 Luke Hume, 10 Roland Suniula, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Todd Clever (captain), 7 Scott Lavalla, 6 Taylor Mokate, 5 Brian Doyle, 4 Louis Stanfill, 3 Eric Fry, 2 Chris Biller, 1 Shawn Pittman.
Replacements: 16 Derek Asbun, 17 Mike MacDonald, 18 Tolifili Liufau, 19 Andrew Durutalo, 20 Mose Timoteo, 21 Will Holder, 22 Colin Hawley.
Italy: 15 Luke Joseph McLean, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Roberto Quartaroli, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Tommaso Benvenuti, 10 Riccardo Bocchino, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Robert Julian Barbieri, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Antonio Pavanello, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Tommaso D'Apice, 19 Simone Favaro, 20 Tito Tebaldi, 21 Kristopher Shaun Burton, 22 Alberto Sgarbi.
Referee: Jerome Graces (France)
Assistant referees: Derek Stoltz (Canada), Marc Nelson (US)
TMO: Davey Ardrey (US)