After making history at the end of their 2022 Guinness Six Nations campaign, expectations are high for Italy’s class of 2023.
Kieran Crowley was the first head coach to name his squad for this year’s Championship, picking a youthful group, with an average of 25, that he will hope can ruffle a few feathers once more following their momentous last-gasp win over Wales.
Victories over Samoa and more notably Australia in the autumn, represented further progress, and Crowley will now be targeting a charge up the Championship standings.
So with their opening fixture against France edging ever nearer, here are the big talking points from the Azzurri’s squad announcement.
— Italrugby (@Federugby) January 16, 2023
Allan passed fit to mitigate fly-half crisis
With Paolo Garbisi already sidelined through injury, Italy fans would have been fearing the worst when Tommaso Allan lay prone after a clash of heads with Manu Tuilagi in Harlequins’ match against Sale Sharks.
It was an anxious wait but Allan later confirmed via social media that he would return before long.
That came as very welcome news and the lack of alternatives available to Crowley is perhaps shown in his initial selection, with just one other fly-half named – Benetton’s Giacomo Da Re.
Da Re has just one Test start under his belt, a 70-minute outing against Portugal, but could be thrust into the thick of Rugby’s Greatest Championship should Allan face another spell out.
Having sprained an internal ligament in his right knee, Garbisi will not play a part in Italy’s opening games.
The 22-year-old could return later down the line, however, and will be desperate to make his mark this year having kicked the winning points for Italy’s first win over Wales since 2007 last time out.
Polledri returns after horror injury
While Italy’s fly-half options may have been weakened due to injury, they have received a huge boost in the back row with Jake Polledri passed fit.
The Gloucester back-rower has not featured for his country since November 2020 but is set to make his long-awaited return in Round 1, having steadily built his fitness with the Cherry & Whites since September.
He was a try-scorer in his last Championship appearance, against England in 2020, but missed the subsequent two campaigns with a knee injury.
With the trio of Seb Negri, Michele Lamaro and Lorenzo Cannone having all impressed during the Autumn Nations Series, it remains to be seen where he fits into Crowley’s pack, but he is certainly a welcome addition.
Rizzoli the standout name among uncapped stars
Barring the second row, you could make a case for Italy’s individual units being the least experienced of all teams in the Championship.
The average number of caps across the training squad stands at a mere 17.6, which means that Crowley’s fresh-faced charges will have to learn on the fly.
An area where they are particularly shorn of experience is at loosehead, with four options, none of whom are older than 24.
Luca Rizzoli is one of three uncapped front-row options included in the squad and he looks most likely to make the step up this year.
A terrifying proposition for defences at youth level, Rizzoli was one of Italy’s go-to ball-carriers during the Under-20 Six Nations Summer Series as Italy finished third on home soil.
With Crowley having already shown an ability to flesh out potential, with Ange Capuozzo being the prime example, there is no reason why Rizzoli cannot be the latest off the ever-growing production line.