Italy coach Jacques Brunel admitted his team had again failed to deliver after squeaking to a 23-18 victory against Canada and predicted a hammering against Ireland if this performance was repeated next weekend.
The Azzurri fell behind to a buccaneering DTH van der Merwe try but went into the break 13-10 to the good after a Michele Rizzo try and eight points from the boot of Tommaso Allan.
Canada flew out of the blocks after the restart and threatened another great World Cup upset as full-back Matt Evans sprinted clear to put them ahead. The match then seemed to turn on the TMO decision to rule out Phil Mackenzie’s try in the 45th minute for a forward pass by Conor Trainor.
Brunel’s men might have viewed this prior to kick-off as a chance to take a five-point maximum, but it quickly became apparent the game would not go that way.
In the end Italy were relieved to claim four points from the Canadians, whose coach Kieran Crowley said his players were “shattered” by the manner of the loss.
Italy’s French coach Brunel said: “If the team plays the way it did today we will go 30 points under against Ireland. If we don’t have precision it will not be a contest - this is the truth.
“But we have the ability to play differently - it’s not like we are not able to play (well). We didn’t deliver in the first or second games (the first was a 32-10 defeat to France) so let’s see what happens next week.”
Brunel reported that it might be “difficult” for stand-in captain and hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini to play in the Ireland game on October 4 after limping off with a leg injury in the second half at Elland Road.
Monday will also be D-Day for inspirational number eight Sergio Parisse, who has played no part in the tournament so far as he continues his recovery from a calf injury.
Brunel called on the likes of scrum-half Edoardo Gori and fly-half Allan to step up to the plate in Parisse’s absence.
“If somebody is more experienced on the pitch they can have a bigger influence,” Brunel said when asked about Parisse.
“But the players we had on the pitch have the ability to have this quality. Gori has to be influential, Allan must be influential, they have a future in this team but they are in difficulty at the moment.”
Canada caught Italy cold in numerous ways, dominating the scrum and appearing to leave the Europeans flummoxed as they opted not to contest line-outs.
Canucks coach Crowley felt his side’s overall lack of top-level experience was the difference.
“It’s about managing games. The more games you have at the elite level, you are going to get better at it,” the New Zealander said.
“We are pretty disappointed, and shattered. The guys gave it everything, they played with real emotion and energy, but it was not quite enough.”
Gonzalo Garcia restored Italy’s lead to 20-15 and despite Nathan Hirayama cutting the deficit to two points, Italy were able to close it out with Allan’s final penalty taking him to 13 points.
Canada take on France in their next match on Thursday, and will hope to provide another scare to one of Europe’s big guns.