Focus on the 2019 Championship: Italy

Italy may have concluded the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations without a win, but there were several signs of promise for Conor O’Shea’s side during the Championship.

Italy may have concluded the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations without a win, but there were several signs of promise for Conor O’Shea’s side during the Championship.

The Azzurri looked set to pick up their first win of the campaign against Scotland in Round Five, only for Greig Laidlaw’s late penalty to deny them.

However, the emergence of players like Matteo Minozzi and Sebastian Negri should give the Italians hope in 2019. Here’s our look at the challenges that lie ahead.

02/02/2019 – Scotland v Italy (Murrayfield)

The fixture that concluded Italy’s 2018 Championship will start their 2019 campaign and the visitors will be hoping to get revenge at Murrayfield.

A standout performance from fly-half Tommaso Allan saw the Azzurri lead 17-12 at half-time, before extending their advantage to 12 points after the break.

Scotland rallied and pulled ahead with tries from Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg and despite briefly regaining the lead through an Allan penalty, Laidlaw kicked the winning points.

While Italy will not have home advantage in 2019, the opportunity to end their 16-game winless run in Scotland should provide all the motivation they need.

09/02/2019 – Italy v Wales (Stadio Olimpico)

The Azzurri will enjoy back-to-back home games following their opener against Scotland, with Wales the first team to travel to the Stadio Olimpico in 2019.

Italy had a tough start in Cardiff in the 2018 Championship, forced to play catch-up after going 14-0 down within six minutes at Principality Stadium.

They responded with a fine try from Minozzi, his third in as many weeks, but an early try at the start of the second half saw Wales run out comfortable 38-14 winners.

However, if Italy can get off to a flying start against Scotland, there’s no reason they can’t pose a threat to Warren Gatland’s side when they face each other in Rome.

24/02/2019 – Italy v Ireland (Stadio Olimpico)

The eventual Grand Slam champions proved too good for O’Shea’s team away in Dublin in 2018, racing into a 28-0 lead after just 21 minutes at the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland extended their advantage to 35-0 at the break before Jacob Stockdale scored a second-half brace, but Italy showed their resilience with three scores of their own.

Allan, Edoardo Gori and Minozzi all crossed the whitewash, with Mattia Bellini denied a bonus-point try by a remarkable recovery tackle from Keith Earls in the final minute.

The defending champions will travel to Rome in 2019 and although it will be a difficult task for the hosts, Italy can take encouragement from their second-half showing in Dublin.

09/03/2019 – England v Italy (Twickenham Stadium)

The final scoreline made Italy’s defeat to England look far more comprehensive than it actually was, as a late flurry of tries saw Eddie Jones’ side triumph 46-15.

Anthony Watson scored two tries in the first 11 minutes, before Italy responded with a try from Tommaso Benvenuti and they trailed just 17-10 at the break.

Bellini also crossed the whitewash just before the hour, while Italy could have had a third try if Tommaso Boni’s effort was not ruled out.

A trip to Twickenham may appear daunting on paper but O’Shea’s men went extremely close to victory in England in 2017.

16/03/2019 – Italy v France (Stadio Olimpico)

Italy conclude the 2019 Championship with their third home game against France, who triumphed 34-17 at the Orange Stade Vélodrome in Marseille in round three this year.

In what became a familiar story throughout the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations, Italy started slowly and conceded an early try as Paul Gabrillagues crossed from close range.

But a penalty try saw the Azzurri take the lead for much of the first half before Maxime Machenaud kicked France into an 11-7 lead at half-time.

The lead remained at four until just before the hour when Hugo Bonneval’s try followed by another for Mathieu Bastareaud saw Les Blues stretch their advantage.

With Italy welcoming France to Rome for the return fixture in 2019, O’Shea’s side will hope they can play an integral role on Super Saturday with a victory against the visitors.