The Italian Rugby project continues to progress with minimal results for the national team but scrap away the senior team results and you will see improvements in the U20 side (beat Scotland a couple of weeks ago) as well as Benetton Rugby who are in the thick of Conference B playoff mix. Hawkeye Sidekick profiles the Italian challenge and what to expect from Conor O’Shea’s team against Ireland next weekend.
The form guide is pretty depressing from an Italian Rugby fan perspective. A pivotal win against Georgia in November which was required to quell the talks of the need to look at Italy and potentially losing their place in the tournament was accomplished with a good performance. Apart from this win, it has been loss after loss after loss. The Scottish RBS 6 Nations game last season potentially was a game where the Italians could have won but for the most part, they have been second best. With a RWC 2019 tournament looming large in the horizon, confidence from recent results is sparse to say the least.
Conor O’Shea has been clear in his selection policy; the squad overall has a consistent look and feel to it with the head coach providing stability in the hope that his charges can start to deliver better performances. The player pool squad depth continues to evolve and it is hoped that a couple of the U20 players who have impressed in recent seasons can make the step up next season.
The team that will face Ireland will be along these lines:
Jayden Hayward; Edoardo Padovani, Michele Campagnaro, Luca Morisi, Angelo Esposito; Tommaso Allan, Guglielmo Palazzani; Nicola Quaglio, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Simone Ferrari; Dave Sisi, Dean Budd; Sebastian Negri, Braam Steyn, Sergio Parisse.
What to watch out for?
Italy will try to bring the game to Ireland with Allan looking to hit the gain line and looking to unleash Campagnaro and Morisi, two excellent ball carriers given the time and space by defenses. This tactic has had mixed results in recent test matches so it will be up to the Italian pack to provide the try scoring platform for the side.
The second row partnership of Sisi and Budd looks to be a potential solid test match unit; management need to be patient with this pairing as both players bring a high level of energy and set piece nous to the side. The cohesion at times has been inconsistent but this will come in time.
The front row potentially could be in for an arduous task. The scrum exchanges so far have been a mixed bag; penalties in this area allowing Wales and Scotland in the opening round to launch attacking platform deep in Italy’s half. This is an area that Italy need to compete next weekend; otherwise they are going to be under their posts quite often.
The back row unit is abrasive and their ball carrying to the fore. Negri will look to disrupt at the breakdown to allow Steyn and Parisse the time to focus on their ball carrying and defensive duties around the fringes. Parisse is a talisman; his perseverance to line out for his country year in and year out is unparalleled. Steyn is an incredible physical player; his try against Wales was all raw power and the Ireland back row unit will be duly noted.
Apart from the scrummaging issues, the ability of sides to create massive gain line breaks out wide continues to be an Achilles heel. If sides can recycle quickly, Italy defensively in the back three look incredibly vulnerable. The Josh Adams try in round two a perfect example; good quick ruck ball setting the platform where the Welsh back line carved out massive yards with ease.
The defensive line speed at times can be a bit static with little anticipation for kicks in behind. Watkin try in round two for Wales saw the Italy defensive organization not set properly. Fast defensive line speed with zero cover behind for the grubber kick. Easy score concession remains a scourge for the Italians.
This was always going to be a long term project for the Italian Rugby Federation. Conor O’Shea has delivered significant progress in his vision for the grassroots and underage structures. The senior side is not going to be an overnight success and I think for the most part, the Italian public realize this. With Benetton Rugby improving significantly this season in Pro14 action, this should be the springboard for national team success.
This RWC 2019 tournament could be a big reality check for the Italian national side if they cannot improve their defensive and disciplinary issues but Conor O’Shea (if he wants the job) should continue the work he has started here. Ireland should win next weekend. The question is whether Ireland are efficient in their attacking and recycling to expose the Italians. The answer is yes and it should be a big win for Joe Schmidt’s side.