A masterclass and 24 point haul from Terry Campese saw Italy claim the fourteenth and final place in the 2017 World Cup with a 14-try, 76-0 rout over depleted Russia at the Leigh Sports Village.
The Azzurri now join Fiji and the USA in Group D in the full tournament and will also play a cross-group tie with Ireland.
Campese, who has been in tremendous form over the three qualifying ties is looking forward to the chance to play for his national side in Canberra where he started his junior career, enjoyed success with the Raiders in the NRL, and where he will join ACT side Queanbeyan as player/coach in the run up to the World Cup.
“It’s great to represent the heritage of the family,” he said. “If my grandfather hadn’t gone over to Australia, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity; he’s no longer with us and it’s sad that he didn’t get to see me pull on the Italian jersey but he was in my heart out there.
The Italian skipper added: “We’ve got a bunch of young guys whose heritage and background, wherever they play, is Italy and it was great to be with them and now in another World Cup.
“If I get to play in Canberra for the Azzurri that would be fantastic, the World Cup will be tough but we won’t be making up the numbers.”
In heavy rain throughout, Campese ensured that the Italians got off to a fast start and enjoyed the bulk of the early possession to build an unassailable lead.
Russia had only 16 men to call on after injuries ruled out three of their squad from the week before against Ireland and there was not time to obtain visas for replacements.
Veteran Sergei Konstantinov was ill on the plane over but bravely took his place on the bench and stand in full back Maxim Suchkov was forced off with a hip injury early in the second half.
Campese’s deft pass sent impressive full back Mason Cerruto over after two minutes and his long ball and miss out pass by Ryan Ghietti saw Richard Lepori in at the corner soon after.
On the back of a penalty, Campese, Ghietti and Cerruto spread the ball for Col Wilkie to cross, Campese landing his first goal from wide out.
Russia were unable to get their hands on the ball and, from a short drop out fashioned by Ghietti’s kick, Brenden Santi gathered to score.
Further penalty concessions saw Cerutto on an excellent diagonal run to the corner from Campese’s pass and Shannon Wakeman crash over to make it 30 points in 24 minutes.
Although the Russians scrambled heroically on the left, the ball was spun to the right and Ghietti’s perfect chip over brought Lepori his second touchdown.
Just after the half hour, Russia spilt possession covering a kick and Campese’s long pass saw Chris Centrone step to the try line and after the Bears had again given away possession on their own 10 metre line, Giolene Celeroni powered over by the posts, Campese with his fifth goal to make it 46-0 at the break.
“We had really good preparation that transferred onto the park and for us to start well was really important,” said Italy head coach Cameron Ciraldo.
“It’s been a big three weeks but we’re there now. It’s been a really good experience, we’d like to have won against Wales last week but we were beaten by the better team on the day.
“That gave us another week together to come here and it was probably our best week on tour.”
Ciraldo added: “Everyone has made sacrifices, they don’t get paid and they’ve all played their part. Tonight we celebrate.”
Italy added five more tries after the break, the Russians enjoying their best spell around the hour when they went 15 minutes without conceding, Ivan Troitskii and Mikhail Burlutskii outstanding in their rearguard action, although the Bears persisted in kicking early when they had the ball.
Suchkov dropped Campese’s high kick and Castellaro took advantage of swept passes from the scrum four minutes into the second half.
On a powerplay, Campese then sent Wilkie twisting over and Castellaro intercepted Denis Tiulenev’s pass to scamper in from half way.
Soft hands from Campsese saw Jayden Walker across in the 65th minute after he had previously had two clean breaks ruled out for forward passes, Campese with another touchline goal, and the skipper landed the coup de grace with the final try in the corner from the back of a scrum, which he also improved.
“It was tough on us because we don’t have a single professional player in our squad,” said Russia head coach Denis Koralev.
“I am proud of every single one of players, they gave all they had tonight. We go back now and begin to prepare for the next World Cup by bringing in some of our younger players.’”
1 Mason Cerruto
2 Chris Centrone
3 Justin Castellaro
4 Col Wilkie
5 Richard Lepori
6 Terry Campese (c)
7 Ryan Ghietti
8 Shannon Wakeman
9 Dean Parata
10 Gavin Hiscox
11 Jayden Walker
12 Brenden Santi
13 Joel Reithmuller
Subs (all used)
14 Joseph Tramontana
15 Ryan Tramonte
16 Giuseppe Pagani
17 Gioele Celerino
Tries: Cerruto (2, 20), Lepori (5, 27), Wilkie (9, 47), Santi (17), Wakeman (24), Centrone (31), Celerino (36), Castellaro (44, 51), Walker (65), Campese (75)
2 Maxim Suchkov
5 Vadim Buryak
1 Nikolai Zagoskin
3 Leonid Kalinin
14 Vadim Tsynkovich
6 Aleksandr Lysokon
7 Denis Tiulenev
16 Vadim Fedchuk
9 Vladimir Vlasyu
10 Ivan Troitskii
12 Mikhail Burlutskii
11 Andrey Kuznetsov
13 Viacheslav Eremin
Subs (all used)
17 Igor Chuprin
18 Dmitry Bratko
8 Sergei Konstantinov
Man of the match: Terry Campese
Half time: 46-0
Referee: Chris Campbell