Italy beats U.S. in rugby match

HOUSTON -- Carlo Festuccia, Edoardo Gori and Kristopher Shaun Burton scored on tries and Italy took advantage of two American red cards in the second half to beat the United States 30-10 in a rugby match Saturday night.

The match was the first international, non-soccer event held at the downtown, soccer-specific stadium, which opened in May. The announced attendance was 17,214, a record for a U.S. match on American soil.

Riccardo Bocchino made three penalty kicks and two conversion kicks for the Italians. Paul Emerick scored the lone try for the Americans before he was ejected in the second half for an illegal tackle. Andrew Suniula also earned a red card for the Americans, who played two men down for the final 23 minutes.

The teams played in sweltering heat that lingered even after the sun went down. Italian captain Martin Leandro Castrogiovanni said both teams felt the effects of the humidity early in the game.

"It was really hard for both teams," Castrogiovanni said. "After 10 minutes, we were both breathing heavy. We tried to play quickly, but it wasn't easy."

Italy took the lead less than 3 minutes into the game, when Festuccia scooped up an errant lineout throw by the Americans, outran the U.S. defenders to the line and grounded the ball for the try.

"It was tough to get out of the gate like that," first-year coach Mike Tolkin said.

Left-footed fullback Chris Wyles booted an early penalty kick, but Bocchino answered with a penalty kick only 2 minutes later for a 10-3 lead for the Italians.

The Americans drove deep into Italy's zone and Emerick made the final run set up by a lineout for the first try for the U.S. Wyles made the conversion to tie it at 10-all. Bocchino booted another penalty kick from the right side with eight minutes left in the half, and Gori found a gap in the U.S. defense and sprinted 40 yards for another Italian try.

Early in the second half, Suniula earned a red card after a late tackle on Bocchino. The U.S. defense held its own with only 14 players, but then Emerick was whistled for not wrapping up on a tackle and earned a red card.

"I thought the first one was a little harsh," Tolkin said. "The second one, I still haven't seen clearly, so I'll look at that again."

Bocchino booted another penalty kick for a 23-10 lead, and Burton put it out of reach with a diving try in the final five minutes.

The teams were meeting for the first time since September 2011, when Italy beat the U.S. 27-10 in pool play of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Tolkin was hired as the new coach of the U.S. squad in February to replace Eddie O'Sullivan. Earlier this month, the Americans lost 28-25 to Canada and defeated Georgia 36-20, and Tolkin said the June matches have been a launching pad for the team's progression toward bigger events in the future.

Tolkin envisions the American team playing a more wide-open, high-scoring style, but the red cards restricted how much the U.S. could operate offensively.

"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."

The next World Cup comes in 2015 and the 7-on-7 version of the sport will be added to the Summer Olympics in 2016. Tolkin said Saturday's match was a valuable learning experience for the U.S. squad.

"Lessons? We have to keep 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."

Italy has already automatically qualified for the World Cup in 2015. The Italians defeated Canada 25-16 in Toronto last Friday and lost 37-22 to Argentina on June 9.

Ireland and Scotland are scheduled to play in the U.S. in the next two seasons, but the dates and venues have not been set.