Skipper Mortlock's try settled the match for Australia
Italy 18 (15)
Pens: Pez (6)
Australia 25 (13)
Tries: Rogers, Shepherdson, Mortlock
Cons: Mortlock (2)
Pens: Mortlock (2)
Australia gave an erratic performance to scrape past Italy 25-18 at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome on Saturday.
Stirling Mortlock led from the front for the visitors, contributing a try, two penalties and two conversions.
Mat Rogers and Guy Shepherdson scored Australia's other tries, while Italy failed to get one.
But just as they did against Wales last week, the Wallabies gave away too many penalties and Ramiro Pez kicked five before the break and one after.
It was only when Mortlock got the last of Australia's tries eight minutes from time that Australia were able to relax a little.
The two-time world champions' ragged display began after three minutes, when hooker Brendan Cannon was sin-binned for lashing out at Gonzalo Canale.
Pez missed the resulting penalty from a relatively easy position but three more Australian misdemeanours in the opening 15 minutes allowed the Argentine-born fly-half to establish a 9-0 lead for the hosts.
We gifted Italy too many chances, and Pez punished us
Australia, meanwhile, were struggling to find their rhythm as handling errors caused a series of attacks falter close to Italy's line.
It was Mortlock who got their first points with a penalty midway through the half.
Italy restored their nine-point cushion in the 27th minute, when Pez fired over another penalty but a minute later Australia broke through.
Following a scrum on the edge of Italy's 22, Stephen Larkham dummied Martin Castrogiovanni to create some space to put fly-half Rogers in for an easy try.
Mortlock's conversion trimmed the gap to 12-10 and a penalty shortly after the half-hour mark put them ahead for the first time.
But the Azzurri continued to fight and got their reward on the stroke of half-time when Australia were penalised for collapsing a maul and Pez made it five penalties out of six to leave Italy 15-13 up.
Australia came out more aggressively at the restart, forcing a lineout five metres from Italy's line.
Alessandro Zanni fumbled from the throw-in, and prop Shepherdson pounced on the loose ball to re-establish the Wallabies' lead.
In the end it was down to small details, and silly mistakes cost us dear
Another Pez penalty kept Italy in contention but in the 72nd minute number eight Wycliff Palu came powering through from deep to set up Mortlock for Australia's third try.
After the game Australia coach John Connolly refused to blame squad rotation for his team's disjointed performance.
"We kicked poorly and gave Italy too many opportunities, but
experimentation is no excuse," he said.
"The shape of our game was the problem. We gifted Italy too many chances, and Pez punished us."
Italy coach Pierre Berbizier said the game would gauge how far his team had come since he took the reins 18 months ago, and he was he was full of praise for his players.
"It's very encouraging," said the Frenchman. "In the end it was down to small details, and silly mistakes cost us dear.
"But we will learn and grow from this experience. We were
playing one of the best teams in the world."
Italy: Peens, Robertson, Canale, M. Bergamasco, Canavosio, Pez, Griffen, Lo Cicero, Festuccia, Castrogiovanni, Dellape, Bortolami, Zanni, M. Bergamasco, Parisse.
Replacements: Ghiraldini, Nieto, Del Fava, Sole, Picone, Scanavacca, Pozzebon.
Australia: Latham, Rathbone, Mortlock, Larkham, Tuqiri, Rogers, Giteau, Baxter, Cannon, Shepherdson, Chisholm, Sharpe, Elsom, Smith, Palu.
Replacements: Moore, N. Henderson, Campbell, Hoiles, Valentine, Gerrard, Shepherd.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRFU)