FLORENCE, Italy (AP) - Italy will hope it dimmed talk of being replaced in the Six Nations after comfortably beating Georgia 28-17 on Saturday.
The Italians took the wooden spoon this year for the 13th time in 19 Six Nations, and the clamor has grown that they be substituted by Georgia, which has ruled the European second-tier championship.
But after conceding the first try to Georgia center Tamaz Mchedlidze, Italy pulled away from the middle of the first half to the middle of the second with consecutive tries to center Michele Campagnaro, wing Mattia Bellini, lock Dean Budd, and flyhalf Tommaso Allan. Georgia finished with a penalty try but was easily second-best to Italy in their first matchup in 15 years.
Italy will move back above Georgia when the world rankings are updated on Monday.
“We want to be a really top team,” Italy coach Conor O’Shea said. “In the past 12 months we have beaten only Fiji and Japan. It was a fundamental victory for this group today against Georgia.
“After today I’m confident that people will look at our future with more belief seeing that in the past year only this match has been talked about. After this win, with less pressure, we are convinced that we can only get better.”
Italy was without talismanic captain Sergio Parisse, who has a calf injury. And perhaps because they were favored for once, the Azzurri started nervously although Allan kicked the hosts ahead with an early penalty.
Georgia then scored, Mchedlidze touching down beside the posts after Campagnaro failed hopelessly with a tackle.
Campagnaro atoned for his error almost immediately. A great team move from Italy saw them spread the ball to the left and then to the right before Campagnaro forced his way over through three Georgia players. Allan converted for 10-7.
“Mistakes can happen but there I did a really huge one,” Campagnaro said. “What’s important is how you react afterwards and that’s what we did. Luckily I made up for it.”
Matiashvili missed a penalty and matters grew worse for Georgia when flanker Giorgi Tsutskiridze was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle.
Italy almost immediately made the extra man count as it forced the ball over, but the try was disallowed on video review.
The Azzurri went through nearly 20 phases to close on the tryline, but earned only a penalty which Allan kicked over.
Italy eventually got its second try in the 39th, after Tsutskiridze rejoined the match. From a lineout inside Georgia’s 22, Tito Tebaldi picked out Bellini to score in the left corner for 18-7 at halftime.
Italy started the second half in the same way it ended the first. Andrea Lovotti was stopped close to the line but Budd was there to take the ball and go over.
Allan didn’t convert again but he scored Italy’s fourth try in the 57th, breaking from halfway and racing uninterrupted down the left flank.
Italy’s 18-point advantage was deserved, but it was cut to 11 for most of the last quarter after center Tommaso Benvenuti was yellow-carded and Georgia was awarded a penalty try.
“When it was 28-7 I thought the end of the match would be different and we could play with more freedom and score again,” O’Shea said. “There was a different finale thanks to the penalty try which gave Georgia so much energy.”
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