Italy beat the United States 22-10 in their opening game of the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Whangarei on Sunday.
Winger Aura Muzzo scored two of her side’s four tries as Italy pulled away in the second half of Group B’s opening game after leading 7-5 at the break.
A duel between the world number five and sixth was always perceived as close and it was the higher ranked Europeans who secured victory thanks to the greater creativity of their backs.
It was a more tense affair than the three games that opened the tournament at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday, where a world-record crowd for women’s rugby of 40,000 watched the victories for France, England and New Zealand.
Their first loss to USA puts them in a good position to reach the quarter-finals, something no Italian side – men’s or women’s – have achieved at a Rugby World Cup.
“It’s very, very important,” Lock Valeria Fedrighi said. “We’ve worked so hard over the summer and started off on the right foot, it’s incredible.
“We knew they were a very physical team. We just tried to play our game and we did it.”
Italy got off to a slow start in blustery conditions, conceding a counterattack against Hallie Taufoou and losing Ilaria Arrighetti to a knee injury, which saw the influential flanker eliminated from the tournament.
A clever try from Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi just before half-time put Italy ahead against the flow of play.
Their precision improved in the second half, underscored by deception and skillful passing from centre-backs Veronica Madia and Beatrice Rigoni.
Muzzo’s brace was followed by an attempt of the game by fellow winger Maria Magatti, who charged on Madia’s inside pass and ran 40 yards over the top to score.
Lock Jenny Kronish scored a second US try when Italy were down to 14 players after Minuzzi was shown a yellow card.
Canada meets Japan later on Sunday before Wales play Scotland.