HOUSTON --Italy struggled against a 13-man United States before prevailing 30-10 in humid Houston in the last match of its rugby tour of the Americas late Saturday.
The inspired Eagles, playing before 17,241 fans, their biggest home crowd, tied the score at 10 after half an hour and trailed only 20-10 at halftime.But their hopes of a first win over Italy evaporated in a testy second spell when Andrew Suniula was red-carded in the 44th minute and fellow center Paul Emerick was also marched in the 65th. Instead of folding, however, their teammates' defense tightened, as a dour Italy added only a penalty and a converted try three minutes from the end. Italy lost to Argentina in its tour opener and beat Canada last week. The Eagles lost to Canada and beat Georgia. Starting in an evening temperature of 36 degrees Celsius (97 F), the visitors scored first after only three minutes, when the Eagles overthrew a lineout and Italy hooker Carlo Festuccia waltzed over. Despite the great opening, the heat was a factor for the Italians. "It was really hard for both teams," Italy captain Martin Castrogiovanni said. "After 10 minutes we were both breathing heavily. We tried to play quickly but it wasn't easy." Penalties were traded then the Eagles attacked from a lineout, with flyhalf Roland Suniula offloading for Emerick to score and make it 10-10. Italy regained the lead with Riccardo Bocchino's second penalty, and two minutes later scrumhalf Edoardo Gori dummied through the defense and scooted 40 meters to a converted try. Suniula was marched four minutes into the new half for a late hit on Bocchino, but the Eagles set up chances only to be let down by knock-ons. Emerick was shown red for a shoulder charge with 15 minutes to go, and it took Italy another five minutes to score, from a penalty. The Eagles looked like they would keep their tryline clean in the second half with superb tackling, but replacement back Kris Burton breached the defense for Italy's third try with time almost up. "The atmosphere was absolutely electric. It was like being overseas," U.S. scrumhalf Mike Petri said. "Everybody always talk about how rugby's not really catching on here, and we don't get the crowds and everything else, but tonight it felt like there were definitely 16 people on the field for America." New coach Mike Tolkin envisions the Americans playing a more open style, but the red cards restricted their plans. "At times, when we play a little bit up-tempo from the ruck, I thought we put them under some pressure," Tolkin said. "The whole second half was basically a defensive, attrition game where we were just kind of hanging on. It was really unfortunate." He said the match was a valuable learning experience in building toward the 2015 World Cup in England. "Lessons? We have to keep our composure, No. 1," Tolkin said. "No. 2, we can play with these teams if we keep our head and keep our discipline. And we need to get fitter to play the type of game we want to play." Ireland and Scotland are scheduled to visit in the next two seasons.