ENGLAND 14 ITALY 15
By Liam Williams
A drop-goal by Josh Mantellato two minutes from the end of gripping match gave Italy a shock victory over England by the narrowest of margins.
It was little more than an Italy team coached by Salford-born and raised Carlo Napolitano deserved at the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford as England suffered the ultimate fate for what their coach Steve McNamara suggested was a complacent performance.
A week before they open Rugby League World Cup 2013 with a match against Australia in Crdiff, England needed an intense test and that is just what they got: the Kangaroos have not played a warm-up game this weekend and can expect to come up againsy battle-hardened opponents with much to prove.
On a rain-swept afternoon, England never got going throughout and were punished by a clinical display by St Helens forward Anthony Laffranchi who scored two first half tries.
Carl Ablett got England off the mark with the opening try before Sam Tomkins scored twice to give England a 14-12 half-time lead, but a second half penalty and drop-goal from Mantellato was enough for Italy to record a historic win in the first senior meeting between the two nations.
England failed to get out of first gear and were punished early on by Laffranchi. The Saints forward exploited Sam Burgess’s missed tackle to squirm over the line and open the scoring for the Italians.
Burgess looked like atoning for his error as he crashed over the line but was deemed to be held up. However, Ablett did get England off the mark shortly after.
Ryan Hall latched on to a kick out wide and found Liam Farrell, who offloaded to Ablett to leave England within two.
Italy responded well, though, and Laffranchi extended their lead, allowing Josh Mantellato to kick another two-pointer.
England’s best period of the game followed as a somewhat fortuitous Tomkins slipped out of the way of a tackle to set up what should have been an easy conversion for Kevin Sinfield.
However, the scrum-half hit the outside of the post to leave England trailing by four.
England looked to make good use of their kicking game as Tomkins collected a kick from out wide and went over again. Gareth Widdop kicked the conversion to put England into a 14-12 half-time lead.
The lead was proved not to be enough, though. Chances in the second half were few and far between, and with the ball still slippery from a first-half downpour, handling errors became increasingly common from both sides.
The closest Italy came to scoring their opening try of the half was when Ben Falcone placed a grubber to the corner, however the kick was dealt with by well Josh Charnley.
Hall came closest to scoring for England in the second half but it was another handling error which proved costly as his knock-on prevented what would have been a certain try.
England conceded a penalty with little over 10 minutes remaining, and in an attempt to level the score, the Italians opted to go for goal. Ray Nasso duly obliged to set up a thrilling finale.
The testing conditions were to prove a deciding factor as the visitors then secured a vital point after a kick deep into England’s half.
Charnley, under no pressure failed to collect the ball to set Italy up with a gilt-edged chance to seal the win. Mantellato was presented with the opportunity to kick the winning drop-goal from 20 metres out in the penultimate minute.
1 Sam Tomkins (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Patricks)
2 Ryan Hall (Leeds Rhinos, Oulton Raiders)
3 Carl Ablett (Leeds Rhinos, Hunslet Parkside)
4 Leroy Cudjoe (Huddersfield Giants, Newsome Panthers)
5 Tom Briscoe (Hull FC, Featherstone Lions)
6 Rangi Chase (Castleford Tigers, Dannevirke Tigers)
7 Kevin Sinfield, captain (Leeds Rhinos, Waterhead)
8 James Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs, Blackbrook)
9 Michael McIlorum (Wigan Warriors, Queens)
10 Lee Mossop (Wigan Warriors, Hensingham)
11 Gareth Hock (Widnes Vikings, Wigan St Judes)
12 Liam Farrell (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Patricks)
13 Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs, Dewsbury Moor)
14 Josh Charnley (Wigan Warriors, Wigan St Patricks)
15 Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos, Latchford Albion)
16 Gareth Widdop (Melbourne Storm, King Cross)
17 Rob Burrow (Leeds Rhinos, Featherstone Lions)
20 Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves, New Spring Lions)
19 James Roby (St Helens, Blackbrook)
18 George Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs, Dewsbury Moor)
1 Anthony Minichiello (Sydney Roosters, captain)
2 Josh Mantellato (Newcastle Knights)
3 James Tedesco (Wests Tigers)
4 Aidan Guerra (Sydney Roosters)
5 James Saltonstall (Warrington Wolves)
6 Ryan Ghietti (Northern Pride)
7 Tim Maccan (Tweed Head Seagulls)
8 Anthony Laffranchi (St Helens)
9 Dean Parata (Parramatta)
10 Paul Vaughan (Canberra Raiders)
11 Mark Minichiello (Gold Coast Titans)
12 Brenden Santi (Parramatta Eels)
13 Joel Riethmuller (North Queensland Cowboys)
14 Ben Falcone (South Logan)
15 Gavin Hiscox (Central Coast Capras)
16 Gioele Celerino (North West Roosters, Italy)
17 Sam Gardel (South Logan)
18 Christophe Calegari (Lezignan)
19 Chris Centrino (North Sydney Bears)
20 Cameron Ciraldo (Penrith Panthers)
21 Fabrizio Ciaurro (Coventry Bears)
22 Ray Nasso (Avignon)
23 Ben Musalino (Manly Sea Eagles)
24 Ryan Tramonte (Windsor Wolves)
Referee: Richard Silverwood (England)