Even without the star half-back pairing of Craig Gower and Terry Campese, both ruled out of the tour through injury, the Italians delivered a performance and result that will give the World Cup a real shot in the arm.
A sluggish England were slow out the blocks, and Italy were able to build a platform. Sam Tomkins floundered under a towering bomb from stand-off Ryan Ghietti, forcing a drop out, and minutes later, the visitors crossed for the game’s first try.
St Helens prop Anthony Laffranchi turned out of a tackle, ducked under two challenges and held off Tomkins to reach out and ground the ball, much to the delight of his mini-fan club behind the press box.
Mantellato’s conversion made it 6-0, but even the early setback didn’t seem to trigger life in to England, leaving the sparse crowd frustrated.
It took almost 20 minutes for England to finally register some points. Kevin Sinfield‘s cross field kick was claimed by Ryan Hall, who found Liam Farrell, and his pass was juggled and touched down by Carl Ablett.
That, and the torrential rain, failed to dampen the Italian enthusiasm, and they claimed their second try moments later. More field position had them close to the line, and Dean Parata burrowed his way over from dummy half moments after Laffranchi had been held up just short.
Sinfield, selected at scrum-half, retained possession from the kick-off, dribbling the ball along the floor and it just about reached the 10 metre line for him to collect. That enabled Tomkins to make the most of the broken Italian defence to register the first of his two tries.
The weather put paid to any expansive rugby for the remainder of the half, but Tomkins was able to slide over for a score on the stroke of half time to give England the lead for the first time.
After the break, onlookers waited for England to take control, but it didn’t happen.
Italy remained assured, had the better of the territory and possession, and having spurned a couple of kickable penalty opportunities previously, Ray Nasso kicked a simple penalty from under the posts to level the scores at 14-14.
They duly obliged as Mantellato dropped back, and put a drop goal over with less than 90 seconds left to earn a remarkable win.
England: Tomkins, Hall, Ablett, Cudjoe, Briscoe, Chase, Sinfield, Graham, McIlorum, Mossop, Hock, Farrell, S Burgess. Subs: Charnley, Watkins, Widdop, Burrow, Hill, Roby, G Burgess.
Italy: A Minichiello, Mantellato, Tedesco, Guerra, Saltonstall, Ghietti, Maccan, Laffranchi, Parata, Vaughan, M Minichiello, Santi, Riethmuller. Subs: Falcone, Hiscox, Celerino, Gardel, Calegari, Centrino, Ciraldo, Ciaurro, Nasso, Musalino, Tramonte.
Referee: Richard Silverwood