Italy get hard fought win over Tonga

18:44, Nov 10 2012
Robert Barbieri
WINNING RUN: Robert Barbieri of Italy makes a breakaway.

Italy got its autumn test schedule off to a winning start with a hard-fought 28-23 victory over an aggressive Tonga side at a sold-out Stadio Mario Rigamonti in Brescia.

Lorenzo Cittadini, who was handed a rare start in his hometown, and Leonardo Ghiraldini went over for Italy, which was also awarded a penalty try in the second half.

Kris Burton converted two of the tries and also added three penalty kicks.

Tonga scored two tries, courtesy of Sona Taumalolo and Fetu'u Vainikolo. Fangatapu 'Apikotoa converted both as well as three penalties.

Three players were yellow carded, including Italy captain Sergio Parisse.

Italy next faces the world champion All Blacks in Rome's Stadio Olimpico on November 17, and Australia in Florence the following weekend.

Italy came into the game as a firm favourite following three wins in its last four matches but Tonga was looking to push on following a shock 19-14 win over France in last year's World Cup.

The Azzurri had won two of its past three encounters with Tonga, including a 48-0 victory the last time the two sides met.

Tonga started aggressively and Steve Mafi went on an early run but was brought down 18 metres from the line. However, Tonga took an early lead when 'Apikotoa converted a penalty kick from a central position.

The stadium erupted a short time later when Italy broke quickly towards the line and Cittadini scored the first try of the game - and his first for Italy.

However, Burton missed the chance to extend Italy's early advantage and Tonga was back in front in the 10th minute following another 'Apikotoa penalty.

Its lead lasted just three minutes before Italy won a penalty and Burton did better from a more difficult position on the halfway line.

Italy struggled to deal with immense pressure from Tonga and matters got worse for the Azzurri when Parisse was yellow carded as Tonga won a penalty under the posts that was easily converted by 'Apikotoa.

But Italy was back in front as Burton converted another penalty.

Moments after Parisse returned Tonga scored its first try when Taumalolo broke free and dived over the line. It was converted by 'Apikotoa.

Italy pressed towards the end of the first half and it paid off as Ghiraldini forced over and Burton converted to put Italy ahead at the break.

In the second half, the Azzurri continued where they left off and should have scored another try following a brilliant pass from Parisse, which would have allowed Tobie Botes a clear run to the line had he not dropped the ball. It was picked up by Tommaso Benvenuti but he was hauled down inches short.

Italy opened up a five-point lead in the 53rd minute following another successful penalty kick from Burton.

The home side looked set for another try following a swift counter but Joshua Furno was hauled down and Lua Lokotui was yellow carded for a high tackle.

The Italy scrum then won some ground and it was further boosted by the entrance of veteran prop Martin Castrogiovanni.

Castrogiovanni had an immediate effect as Italy was awarded a penalty try, which Burton again converted to give the Azzurri a 12-point lead.

Tonga got back into the game when Vainikolo ran onto a long kick into the left corner and turned over. 'Apikotoa converted to reduce the deficit to five points with 12 minutes remaining.

Italy went close to sealing the game with seven minutes remaining but Vunga Lilo intercepted a pass from Benvenuti to Luke McLean, which would have sent him through.