Namibia gave a passionate performance before going down 47-22 to a slick and professional Italy in their opening match at the Rugby World Cup in Higashiosaka on Sunday.
Italy eventually ran in seven tries, but Namibia scored three of their own, while they defended heroically to win the support of the 20 000-strong crowd.
Namibia stunned the Azzuri when scrum half Damian Stevens opened the scoring with a great try after five minutes, following a breakaway by Torsten van Jaarsveld, but Italy soon equalised with a penalty try and from then on gradually took control of the match. Namibia defended heroically with PJ van Lill and JC Greyling making try-saving tackles, but the Italians kept on attacking and took the lead midway through the first half when fly half Tommaso Allan dotted down after a great break by centre Luca Morisi.
Namibia managed to keep the Italians at bay, with especially flanker Wian Conradie making some telling tackles, but were unfortunate to concede a try on the break of half time after a brilliant pass by lock Frederico Russa sent scrum half Tito Tebaldi tearing away down the touchline for a try. With the rain pouring down at the start of the second half, Italy soon stretched their lead when a fine cross-kick by Morisi was dotted down by winger Edoardo Padovani, while substitute back Carlo Cabnna crashed over for a try he converted himself to put Italy 35-7 ahead.
Namibia refused to surrender and struck back with a great try by winger JC Greyling, after a quick blindside attack by Eugene Jantjies. Italy stretched their lead through tries by substitute flanker Jake Polledri and winger Matteo Minozzi, but Namibia had the final say when right wing Chad Plato cut through the backline to touch down after a 40 metre run. It was a fine performance by Namibia who held their own against the Italians in most aspects of the game. Except for the penalty try conceded, they held their own in the scrums, as well as in the line outs where captain Tjiuee Uanivi had a great match.
Namibia also defended courageously with 127 tackles made to Italy's 95, but a telling aspect of the game was their 27 missed tackles to Italy's 10, which had a big bearing on the outcome of the match. Namibia's coach Phil Davies was understandably proud of his team. “I'm very proud of the players, the way we adapted to the speed of the game, some of the tries we scored and some of the resolute defence. You know I was really happy, but credit to Italy, you know, they put a bit of pressure on and scored at crucial times and they deserve the win,” he said. “We must just try and hold on to the ball in certain situations - we lost a few balls in the ruck.
But overall, you know, the effort, the commitment of the players and the way we tried to play was exciting, we just have to be a little bit more accurate to the ball the next time we play,” he added. Namibia captain Tjiuee Uanivi was gracious in defeat. “First of all I'd like to congratulate Italy. We made too many turnovers, especially in the first half, and that cost us because Italy were very good at turnover counter-attacks. Hats off to them but (it was) a fantastic effort from our boys second half.” Namibia next face a huge challenge against South Africa on 28 September, but Uanivi said they must just focus on maintaining possession. “It's simple, we must just keep the ball more and not allow teams easy turnovers.”