FLORENCE: "Risky" option-taking in the second half caused the Wallabies to throw away a 16-point lead - and almost the Test match - against Italy on Saturday, captain Nathan Sharpe said.
Despite holding on for a gutsy, if imperfect, 22-19 victory on their third Test match of the European tour, the Wallabies were held scoreless in the second half while a committed Italy applied vice-like pressure to notch up points and storm back into the game.
Sharpe said inaccuracy and poor decision-making gave the Italians a reprieve after running off the pitch at halftime 22-6 behind.
"We were just inaccurate in a lot of the things we were doing," Sharpe said.
"In the first half we played with a lot more intelligence but in the second half you probably saw us ... we'd take a risky option with an offload, we'd turn over ball in their half and then we'd get the back to back penalties, which suited the style of Italian play and they were able to build pressure on us.
"The physical elements weren't the issue, we just stopped doing what we'd done in the first half and was working for us."
Italian captain Sergio Parisse praised the Australian scrum after the match but Wallabies coach Robbie Deans found little joy in the display or small pile of short-arm penalties the Italians forced.
"[The] element that worked very much for Italy was how they disrupted our set-piece ball," Deans said. "One of our big issues in the second half was we didn't have the ball, we didn't have possession."
The Azzurri were the far superior attacking team in the second half and effective in counter attack, evidenced by their only try of the match, scored by flanker Robert Barbieri off a lost ball from Sitaleki Timani in the first two minutes of the second half.
Were it not for the boots of both Berrick Barnes and Kurtley Beale, plus Nick Cummins's first-half try and two near-misses by the Italians late in the second half, the Wallabies could be travelling to Wales today with just one win from three and all the pressure from France weighing once more on tired shoulders.
Sharpe defended the side's performance, pointing to their discipline and accuracy before the break.
"You have to put that in perspective, one thing people have to take into account is it's very hard to win over here, against a tough Italian side at home," he said.
"Once you had given them a sniff, I thought it was a great amount of character shown by our boys and its adds to the reserves of belief to take forward, that they can win close games. Sure it would have been nice to kick on from that first half, but in a lot of ways it is a great lesson for us to learn going forward and next year."
Deans could not give a definitive report on injured halfback Brett Sheehan, who limped off with an ankle problem in the first half. There is some hope the injury was not as serious as first feared after it responded well to physio.
Prop Benn Robinson is also expected to pull up without serious concern after being taken off with a head knock in the first half.