11 Nov 2012

Italy narrowly defeats Tonga

8:33 am on 11 November 2012

Italy warmed up for the visit of two rugby heavyweights in the coming weeks with an unconvincing 28-23 win over a feisty Tonga side in Brescia.

Facing the All Blacks in Rome next week and Australia in Florence a week later, Azzurri coach Jacques Brunel came into the first of three autumn internationals claiming the pressure was off his team.

But After seeing his side dominated in the first half, give away too many penalties and squander a number of chances, he admitted he will be looking for improvements.

Having won the last two of their three fixtures against Tonga, Italy's starting 15 contained a mix of youth and experience with Tomasso Iannone making his full debut and a number of Italy regulars not making their appearance until the second half.

But Tonga came to perform, and did so in a dominant first half which saw the hosts pull back in front only thanks to a late Leonardo Ghiraldini try that was converted by Kris Burton.

Tonga started strongly and took a third-minute lead when Fangatapu 'Apikotoa sent a penalty between the posts, however Italy replied almost immediately when Lorenzo Cittadini pushed over for their opening try in the sixth minute.

Tonga dominated an Italian line-out just outside their own 22 but from an attempted clearance the visitors gave up possession and Cittadini bundled the ball over the line.

Looking comfortable and more confident in their passing game, Tonga threatened an early try and were rewarded for their incursions into Italy's 22.

'Apikotoa kicked a penalty 10 minutes into the game, only for Burton to restore the hosts' lead when he landed a penalty three minutes later.

Tonga's big break came when Italy captain Sergio Parisse was shown a yellow card in the 23rd minute for holding up play.