Brisbane- Italy coach Conor O'Shea says he's gutted to come so close to upsetting Australia but proud of the strides the Azzurri have made to become a competitive rugby force.
Italy fought back magnificently to trail by one point with just four minutes left before the Wallabies scored two last-ditch tries to claim an unconvincing 40-27 win over the Six Nations strugglers in Brisbane on Saturday.
The Italians head home from their summer tour winless after a 34-13 defeat to Scotland in Singapore and a 22-19 loss to Fiji, but Irishman O'Shea hailed his team.
"It would have been easy on two or three occasions for that team to say: 'Look it's the end of a long season, it's the end of the tour'," O'Shea told reporters.
"But you can see there's just this mentality that if we work hard and we make the changes and we get the support we need we will become a competitive country again.
"The effort out there was incredible."
Italy, ranked 15th in the world, were missing several of their best players, but still caused problems for the Wallabies.
"The emotion is always raw just after a game. I mean, we get within a point and concede a penalty contesting," said O'Shea.
"But to focus on that, I'd talk about the road we've had to travel and the changes we've made and how the team has improved.
"Look at the scrum. For the second week in a row we played like Italy. We didn't try and play like anyone else, we were trying to play our way.
"I'm gutted we lost. We didn't come out here to come second and we had a great chance out there, but I'm so proud because over three weeks together you can see how good we've become.
"I'm fast forwarding two years to a World Cup when I have four months with them."
The Italians upset the Springboks 20-18 in Florence last November and led Six Nations champions England at half-time before going down 36-15 at Twickenham in February.
"We have to stay mentally and physically strong because we're competing at the highest level against the top teams," he added.
"We're not getting any easy opponents. As long as we keep on working and learning we'll turn that corner."