FUKUOKA, Japan (Reuters) - With pool matches against South Africa and New Zealand still to come, Italy coach Conor O’Shea was happy just to book a spot at the next World Cup with a comfortable victory over Canada on Thursday.
The Italians dominated Canada in the forwards to run out 48-7 winners at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium on Thursday, moving to the top of Pool B with two bonus-point victories.
They next face the Springboks in Shizuoka on Oct. 4 before finishing the pool phase against the three-times world champion All Blacks in Toyota City on Oct. 12.
Victory against Canada virtually assured them of third spot in the pool and automatic qualification for the next World Cup in France in 2023.
“We’ve already qualified for the next World Cup, which is huge, it was a goal,” O’Shea said, recognising that it was highly unlikely that either themselves, Namibia or Canada would record victories against the two southern hemisphere nations.
“We’ll see how we go in the next two matches.”
The Italians entered the match against Canada as strong favourites, having dispatched Namibia with a seven-try performance last Sunday.
They have, however, struggled in recent years in the Six Nations, although the experience they have gained from playing sides ranked in the top-10 every year was obvious in their display against Canada.
O’Shea’s side were clinical and direct, with loose forwards Braam Steyn and Jake Polledri particularly brutal as ball carriers.
They were also patient, built phases and waited for gaps to appear in the stretched Canadian defence.
“Four years ago in England it was 23-18 when we played Canada and today it was a huge win for us,” O’Shea said.
“Compared to that, you can see this was a great victory and we have shown great progression. We now must show our very best level in the next two matches.”
O’Shea added he was especially pleased given his team had played only four days ago and he shook up his selection to rotate the squad and test its depth.
“It was a four-day turnaround, and that’s tough for any team, mentally as well as physically,” O’Shea said.
“The great thing is practically the whole squad has played. It’s forced us to play everybody, everyone has reacted brilliantly and now we can look forward, hopefully without many injuries, to the next bit of the tournament.
“(But) I’m giving them the night off because I’m old school ... and then we’ll start looking ahead to the next challenge.”
Editing by Toby Davis