Rugby League World Cup: England suffer warm-up defeat to Italy
Last Updated: 19/10/13 7:33pm
England's World Cup preparations were dealt a blow after suffering a shock 15-14 defeat at the hands of minnows Italy in their friendly at the Salford City Stadium.
Steve McNamara's men failed to extend a 14-12 half-time lead on a sodden Saturday afternoon as a drop-goal from winger Josh Mantellato two minutes from the end condemned them to a 15-14 loss.
Australia coach Tim Sheens watched on with delight as he prepares his Kangaroos side for their World Cup opener against England at the Millennium Stadium next Saturday.
Full-back Sam Tomkins provided the lone highlight for the hosts, England's record try-scorer lit up the drab proceedings with a brace before witnessing his side's capitulation from the bench.
Tomkins was withdrawn midway through the match as McNamara gave run-outs to 20 members of his World Cup squad in preparation for the stiffer tests to follow.
Italy's Salford-born coach Carlo Napolitano continually rang the changes to take a look at all 24 of his players and, despite insisting in advance that the result was not important, encouraged his side to level the scores with a penalty on 69 minutes before celebrating a famous victory at the final whistle.
The first-half rainstorm, accompanied by thunder and lightning, was clearly a sign of what was to come for a lacklustre home side, who were left to rue a series of early defensive lapses that enabled the Italians to build a 12-4 lead.
McNamara would have been particularly concerned at the way his defenders fell off the tackle to allow St Helens prop Anthony Laffranchi a soft early try and the ease with which hooker Dean Parata burrowed his way from dummy half for the Italians' second.
Mantellato added both conversions but there was little hint of the drama to come when centre Carl Ablett scored England's first try on 19 minutes, touching down at the corner, despite juggling with the pass from Liam Farrell, after winger Ryan Hall had collected Kevin Sinfield's crossfield kick.
As the storm clouds broke over Salford, England's World Cup hopes began to resemble the gathering gloom, but Tomkins was there to provide a bright spark as he took James Roby's superb pass to score his first try and then got on the end of Widdop's lofted kick for his second.
Sinfield was wide with his first conversion attempt and hit the woodwork with his second but his replacement Widdop found the target to convert Tomkins' second try and put England in front for the first time four minutes before half-time.
If the sight of a double rainbow at the start of the second half lifted the spirits of the spectators, it did not permeate to the England players, who struggled to find any cohesion.
They missed a scoring chance when Hall failed to take Gareth Hock's pass 10 metres away from the Italian line and McNamara removed his side's main threat when Tomkins departed from the action 16 minutes from time.
The Azzurri took the opportunity to draw level on 69 minutes with a penalty from in front of the posts by substitute Ray Nasso.
England had a chance to win it when Widdop broke clear with five minutes to go but he failed to find the supporting Rob Burrow and the missed opportunity proved costly.
When Josh Charnley knocked on inside his own 20-metre area, the Italians seized their chance and Mantellato was accurate with a 30-metre drop goal that will live long in the memory of Napolitano's men.