Wallabies miles away from a Renaissance after wretched Florence performance

A rumbling Will Skelton was the only highlight of an otherwise wretched Wallabies experiment that resulted in a first ever loss to Italy and confirmed that Australia's chief issue is their woeful disciplinary record -- no matter who is on the field.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is already copping widespread criticism for his decision to make 11 changes to the team - which then became 12 with Nick Frost's late withdrawal -- that went within a whisker of defeating France last week in a performance that was completely different to the one dished up in the 28-27 defeat in Florence on Saturday.

But as has been the case in this roller coaster of a Wallabies' season, Australia were only able to produce fleeting moments of the quality of Paris, and instead looked very much like a team that was relying on training paddock reps rather than continuity and cohesion built in-game.

Rennie must wear the responsibility for that, but he - and Stan Sport pundit - Morgan Turunui were right in saying that there was enough talent in the Wallabies team that ran out in Florence for it to do the job.

They simply didn't play well enough and, in all honestly, didn't deserve the opportunity to steal the victory after Cadeyrn Neville broke through the Italian line to score from close range right on fulltime.

Unfortunately for Waratahs youngster Ben Donaldson, his Test debut will now forever be tied to a potential match-winning penalty that drifted to the right of the sticks and became the final act of an unwanted piece of Australian rugby history.

The Wallabies conceded 16 penalties in all - seven more than their hosts - with several of those tied to the breakdown where Italian No. 7 Michele Lamaro was able to assert himself. After conceding the second most penalties of any team during the Rugby Championship -- and only relegated to second after the Pumas were pinged 22 times in their finale -- the 16 Australia gave up in Florence has left no one in any doubt about where their key problem lies.

"We put ourselves under pressure throughout. Discipline's been better the last couple of weeks but not good enough today. Too many turnovers especially at the breakdown," Rennie said.

"You can't give a team like Italy that sort of start. We wanted to deny them opportunities and take the crowd out of the game but they got out to a quick 17-3 and got a lot of belief out of that.

"We're bitterly disappointed with our performance - not good enough."

Bitterly disappointed won't cut it with the Australian rugby public, many of whom will fast be losing patience with Rennie and his inability to right the inherent issues at the heart of this Wallabies squad.

It's true the Wallabies have had a long season. It's true their run with injury has been unlike any other in recent memory. It's true that this was a good opportunity to test some of the fringe members of their squad.

But that cannot be used as an excuse for what they dished up, and only a shock victory against Ireland -- who ease past a similarly ill-disciplined Fiji on Saturday -- can restore some pride in a Wallabies team that will be feeling as despondent as the one defeated by Samoa in Sydney before the 2011 World Cup.

That team, too, was similarly understrength. But that didn't prevent it from being a result that rocked Australian rugby, just as this loss in Florence has.

The one positive from Australia's visit to the Renaissance city was Will Skelton.

After five years of wondering whether the thundering second-rower's outstanding club form could be translated to the Test arena, there was more than enough in Skelton's 58-minute performance to be convinced he must have a spot in the Wallabies' World Cup squad next year.

After giving up an early penalty, Skelton carried with authority in midfield, bending the line on multiple occasions in finishing with a match-high 10 runs for 27 metres and two offloads. On the rare occasions the Wallabies did build momentum, Skelton was usually leading the charge.

Italy, too, deserve praise for a performance that showed the growth in their game under Kieran Crowley. The two tries scored by Ange Capuozzo were wonderfully created, with crisp and perfectly timed passing opening up the space and players running on the ball from depth.

After breaking Welsh hearts in Cardiff with his match-turning break earlier this year, Capuozzo again affirmed his status as one of the most talented players to ever emerge from Italy.

But while the celebrations will have roared long into the night in Tuscany for the hosts, the Wallabies must somehow regroup and set themselves for the toughest challenge of their five-Test tour against Ireland.

Their "pass mark" of three wins is still alive and in a sign of just how close these matches have been the Wallabies could be sitting at 3-0 or 0-3. As it stands, they are at 1-2.

The cavalry will return and the likes of skipper James Slipper, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Dave Porecki and Jed Holloway will all be better for having a week off.

But the fact those players had their feet up is no excuse for a group that had the necessary talent to win in Florence. They simply just weren't good enough, and time is fast running out for Rennie to prove he can turn this squad around - or at least build some measure of consistency.

At the moment their best is good enough to beat the elite nations inside the top four. But their inability to build from the rare occasions when they do play well is telling.

And the weekend's loss to a 12th ranked Italy is a terribly accurate reflection of just how bad the Wallabies can be when playing at their worst.