It is set to be a big year in Italian women’s rugby and the Azzurre’s captain Manuela Furlan remains an enduringly key part of a team that continues to rise in stature, ahead of the 2022 TikTok Women’s Six Nations.
The 33-year-old has won 81 caps since making her debut for Italy in 2009, with the most recent of those demonstrating just how important she still is.
Furlan returned to the Italian fold towards the end of the 2020 Women’s Six Nations, which had been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, when her side had only completed two of their fixtures.
Her comeback against Ireland in October of that year was her first appearance for her country in 18 months, having been sidelined at the start of the Championship with a torn labrum in her left shoulder.
She was delighted to be able to pick up the armband again, saying at the time: “After a year and a half [out], I really missed training with the girls.
“The truth is that just when you find yourself back with them you realise how much you have missed them.”
Frustratingly for Italy, their match against Scotland being cancelled meant denied them the chance to pick up at least two wins in the Championship for the sixth time in seven years.
It represented a rare setback over the previous decade, with the highlight of that being their superb second-place finish in the 2019 Women’s Six Nations, but 2021 was where progress started to be made again.
Furlan was right at the heart of that, with the player who has earned most of her caps at full-back proving to be just as devastating on the wing as she scored a hat-trick against Scotland at Glasgow to qualify Italy for the 3rd/4th place play-off in the revamped Championship.
While she could not prevent the Azzurre losing the subsequent match against Ireland, she played a big part in helping them qualify for back-to-back World Cups for the first time in 20 years.
Beating Scotland has become a habit for them but finishing ahead of the Irish – semi-finalists as recently as 2014 – in last autumn’s European Qualification Tournament was another significant achievement under head coach Andrea Di Giandamenico.
Italy enter the 2022 TikTok Women’s Six Nations eighth in the women’s World Rugby rankings, just two places off their high of sixth in 2019.
Furlan forms part of a strong and experienced spine in their squad that includes Sara Barattin, Elisa Giordano, Michela Sillari and Sofia Stefan, but she credits Di Giandamenico as the reason they are no longer regarded as a surprise package.
“It’s a result of the work started by Andrea, the coach, in 2010. His ability is to always have a united squad by introducing new players to counter the loss of others,” Furlan said.
In Focus: Italy
“The confidence he showed in us from the very beginning made the difference. It’s thanks to him we got to achieve these performances.
“Our strength is the squad itself, the determination we put into everything we do and especially the hunger we have to show our worth.”
Italy will be hoping the combination of their long-serving coach and captain will continue to be a winning one in a year that begins against France in Grenoble and finishes with a World Cup campaign in New Zealand.