Ireland produced a stunning display to upset Italy in their opening World Cup match, running out comfortable 36-12 winners at Barlow Park, Cairns.
A double from winger Liam Kay, as well as a try for George King opened up a 20-point lead for Ireland, before Justin Castellaro hit back before half-time. Nathan Milone gave Italy hope at the start of the second half before further Irish tries from Kyle Amor, Michael Morgan and Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook sealed the win for the Wolfhounds.
It took the Irish less than three minutes to open the scoring in the blistering heat in Cairns, with winger Liam Kay crossing the try line in the corner after some good work on the left edge by Scott Grix. Liam Finn landed the touchline conversion to open up a 6-0 lead before Italy even touched the ball.
Ireland soon established a 12-0 lead when, on the ten-minute mark, Michael McILorum’s grubber kick on the last tackle was gracefully collected by loose-forward George King to score near the uprights. Finn again was on hand to land the conversion attempt.
The Italians, who lost talisman Terry Campese before the match due to a calf injury, struggled to handle the Irish forwards and, after consecutive penalties, Ireland extended their lead to 14-0 thanks to a Finn penalty.
Whilst the Azzuri looked flat in attack, the same could not be said for their Irish counterparts, who scored their third try of the afternoon through Kay in the 30th minute. Similar to his first try, Kay yet again found room on the outside, after good work from Grix, to score his second. Finn landed yet another touchline conversion to push Ireland out to a fully-deserved 20-0 lead.
Italy finally got on the scoreboard two minutes before the break against the run of play, with centre Justin Castellaro intercepting a Grix pass to score unopposed. Mantellato made no mistake with his conversion attempt to send Italy in at the break trailing by 14 points.
The opening ten minutes of the second half went to the Italians, although they lost halfback Jack Johns, son of Aussie legend Matthew Johns, to a wrist injury. The Azzuri came out of the blocks firing and scored after Mantellato gathered a high bomb before offloading to his centre Nathan Milone to score. Mantellato added the extras to reduce the score to 20-12.
Ireland quickly regained their first half dominance, but not before a try-saving tackle by Irish scrum-half Finn denied Jayden Walker a certain try. Irish forward Kyle Amor barged his way over the line in the 55th minute, before Italy fullback James Tedesco misjudged a Grix grubber kick in the 60th minute which allowed Michael Morgan to score. Finn added both conversions to restore their 20-point lead.
Italy failed to worry Ireland in the closing stages, with the latter scoring late on to confirm their opening match victory through Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook who dummied his way over to score. Finn, who gave the perfect display, hit the post with his final conversion.
Ireland will be tested when they face Papua New Guinea in match two whilst Italy will be looking for an improved performance when they face the USA.