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O'Connor sizzles as Wallabies drub Italy

TEENAGE fullback James O'Connor celebrated his first full test appearance with a hat-trick of tries in Australia's 31-8 win over Italy in Canberra yesterday.

The 18-year-old made a dream start to his first run-on match for the Wallabies, scoring his opening try in the fourth minute then crossing over twice more.

Flyhalf Matt Giteau scored a fortuitous try in the first half after the ball ricocheted off his knee, and converted three of the five Australian tries.

The Wallaby skipper Stirling Mortlock barged his way over in the second half to snuff out any chances of an Italian fightback after the tourists had scored eight unanswered points either side of the break through their Antipodean recruits.

Australian-born fullback Luke McLean opened the Italians' account with a penalty on the stroke of halftime then New Zealand-born wing Kaine Robertson charged over two minutes after the re-start when he combined with Craig Gower, a former Australian rugby league player.

Italy had never beaten Australia in any of its previous 10 encounters and was given little real hope of ending its drought after finishing bottom of this year's European Six Nations.

The Australians warmed up for the match with a comprehensive 55-7 win over the Barbarians last weekend and looked set for another lopsided win when O'Connor strolled in untouched after three and a half minutes only to be stalled by Italian defending.

O'Connor scored his second after half an hour then his third midway through the second term.

At 18 years and 126 days, O'Connor became the second-youngest Australia player when he went on as a replacement in the 30-20 win over Italy at Padova last November. The youngest player to represent Australia was Brian Ford, who was 18 years and 90 days old when he appeared against New Zealand in 1957.

The teams meet again this week for their second and final test.


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