Italy will begin their Guinness Six Nations campaign with renewed optimism after an impressive Autumn Nations Series.
Flying full-back Ange Capuozzo was at his electric best as the Azzurri claimed a first ever victory over Australia in November.
The 23-year-old introduced himself to the world in last year’s Championship, sensationally setting up Edoardo Padovani’s dramatic late try against Wales to secure their first win since 2015.
Here we take a look at a trio of youngsters hoping to follow in Capuozzo’s footsteps and make their mark at the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.
Lorenzo Cannone has already made a bright start to his international career.
The Benetton forward was handed his debut by Kieran Crowley in the Autumn Nations Series, starting at No.8 as Italy welcomed Samoa to Stadio Plebiscito.
The 21-year-old hardly looked out of place as the hosts ran in six tries, with Cannone grabbing the fifth just minutes after his older brother, Niccolo, entered the fray.
Cannone Jr. was mobbed by his teammates after diving over in the corner, a reaction indicative of his immediate popularity.
Breakthrough candidates: England
But it is his all-round game that endears him the most and is the reason he started Italy’s final two matches of 2022.
A formidable tackler with a strong carrying ability and a tireless engine, Cannone has all the required attributes to nail down his position for years to come.
Like Cannone, Alessandro Garbisi is treading a path well-known to his family, with his older sibling Paolo currently sitting on 21 caps for his country.
After impressing in successive editions of the Under-20 Six Nations, Alessandro graduated to the senior set up in 2022 and matched Cannone’s feat of dotting down on his debut, away to Romania in the summer.
Breakthrough candidates: Wales
The young scrum-half has been playing second fiddle to South African veteran and Benetton co-captain Dewaldt Duvenage over the last two seasons.
But a recent run of four games starting for the Treviso club has given the 20-year-old confidence he can seamlessly pick up the baton when Duvenage moves on.
The current incumbent of Italy’s No.9 jersey is Welsh-born youngster Stephen Varney, who started all three matches in the latest Autumn Nations Series.
However, the 21-year-old has struggled to hold down a regular starting berth for club side Gloucester, battling with experienced Australian scrum-half Ben Meehan.
But even if Varney is preferred to Garbisi, the diminutive Venetian will be primed to make a big impact off the bench during his first taste of the Guinness Six Nations as a senior player.
One of a clutch of exciting young Italian props, Luca Rizzoli is beginning to establish himself as a fearsome front-rower at Zebre.
The 20-year-old brushed aside all who stood in his path at the 2022 Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series, making a name for himself as someone not to be trifled with.
The loosehead was rewarded for his age-group exploits with his club debut in the United Rugby Championship this season.
And while Rizzoli is yet to end on the winning side for the Azzurri thus far, it feels only a matter of time before he is inducted into Crowley’s pack.
Breakthrough candidates: Ireland
It to be seen whether the Roman will win his first senior cap at the 2023 Guinness Six Nations but he is certainly one to watch for the future.
Another star of Italy’s promising Under-20s squad is young full-back Lorenzo Pani, who could be expected to make a huge impression were it not for Capuozzo’s meteoric rise. Though not blessed with youth anymore, 26-year-old winger Pierre Bruno looks set for a successful Championship following a three-try haul in the Autumn Nations Series. And finally, all eyes will be once again on Tommaso Menoncello after the utility back became the youngest ever try-scorer at last year’s Championship.