Suva - Fiji
conjured a dramatic drop goal after the full-time siren to defeat Italy
22-19 in a one-off Test in Suva on Saturday, extending the Azzurri's
losing streak to eight games.
Ben Volavola's kick gave Fiji the edge in a contest in which the home
team excelled during broken play but were dominated in the set piece.
It was a heartbreaking loss for Italian captain Francesco Minto,
skippering for the first time after a selection shake-up from coach
Conor O'Shea emphasising youth.
"It was a close game, we conceded too much to Fiji in open play and
all their tries came from our mistakes," Minto said. "It shouldn't be
Italy's inexperience showed early when wing Leonardo Sarto knocked on
trying to gather a kick and Fiji set up centre Eroni Vasiteri for a try
from the resulting scrum.
But they excelled at the set piece, stealing the ball from Fiji's
lineout and drawing numerous scrum infringements, allowing Tommaso Allan
to kick two penalties and narrow the gap to 7-6.
The flying Fijians' renowned backline got them out of trouble,
throwing the ball around sevens-style before Jale Vatubua dotted down
between the posts.
They were lucky to go into the break up 14-9 but asserted themselves
after the restart, when wing Vereniki Goneva ran 60m to score after
intercepting a loose pass.
Fiji's number eight Nemani Negusa was sinbinned after a shoulder
charge on Sarto and his absence was immediately felt when Maxime Mbanda
scored a pushover try.
Allan levelled the scores at 19-19 with three minutes left on the
clock and it looked like a draw until Fiji ran the ball from deep within
their own half.
They knocked on, giving the Italians a scrum feed but managed to turn
over the ball and set up Volavola for the match-winning drop goal.