Doubting Azzuri fear Pumas
Italy coach Jacques Brunel has warned of the threat from Argentina after an edgy 31-37 defeat to Fiji left doubts creeping into the Azzurri game.
Italy coach Jacques Brunel has warned of the threat from Argentina after an edgy31- 37 defeat to Fiji left doubts creeping into the Azzurri game a week ahead of their final November Test.
Argentina were humbled 40-6 by Wales in Cardiff but going on Italy's ragged display in Cremona, the Pumas could have reason to believe in their victory chances at Rome's Olympic Stadium next Saturday.
A week after a 50-20 mauling by Australia in Turin, Italy failed to overwhelm the South Pacific Islanders, who ran in five tries to Italy's four, and only really took command late in the first half when Fiji were briefly reduced to 11 men.
Before then, Italy had been largely unconvincing as Fiji's size and aggression caused problems for their defence.
Italy flank Alessandro Zanni, voted man of the match, admitted the Fijians had been tough customers: "They really gave our defence problems.
"That is a department that we really have to improve in. And we struggled to counter them in the second half. But the crucial thing was the win."
Fijians Akapusi Qera, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Masi Matadigo and Nemani Nadolo Nasiganiyavi had been sin-binned in eight, crazy first-half minutes, allowing Italy to build a half-time lead of 20-5.
Replacement Sisa Koyamaibole was sent to the sin-bin in the second half, allowing Fiji to set a new, all-time record at international level for five yellow cards in a single game.
But despite holding a 30-10 lead with just over 20 minutes to play, Italy allowed Fiji to fight back into contention with three tries and three conversions to make it a nervous final 10 minutes for the hosts.
Brunel appeared to have taken Italy up a notch by the end of last season's Six Nations during which his side beat for France and Ireland and came within seven points of upsetting England.
This latest performance left the Frenchman looking dejected post-match for the second consecutive week.
"We still didn't play to our potential," lamented Brunel, who added that Italy should be wary of Argentina's desire for a series-closing win having also suffered a 31-12 defeat to England.
"They will want to close their series with a big performance after two defeats. Their reverse to Wales makes next week's game in Rome more difficult."
Skipper Sergio Parisse and prop Martin Castrogiovanni were making their 100th appearance for Italy, but after the whistle it became apparent why they had refused to make a big deal of that landmark in recent days.
Parisse had scored one of Italy's two first-half tries but was later sin-binned when Fiji were in the process of launching a fightback, which saw the visitors touch down in the 71st and 75th minutes.
The Italy skipper admitted his men had produced an all-round under-par display.
"We started the game badly," said Parisse.
"They were shown four yellow cards, we pulled ahead and things were looking comfortable for us because with the [numerical] advantage we put points on the board.
"But it was a strange game. We didn't feel as though we were under threat but we still allowed them to come back into contention.
"We missed a lot of tackles and overall it wasn't a great performance on our part."
The only positive, according to Parisse, was sealing a win which, despite its hard-fought nature, he believes could give Italy the edge for next weekend.
"In the end we've got the win and that counts for a lot. It will allow us to prepare for Argentina with more peace of mind and tranquility."