Italy might not have picked up a win in the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations but Conor O’Shea will have taken plenty of positives from the Championship, particularly the heart-breaking final loss to Scotland.
This summer they head to Japan for a two-Test series against the Brave Blossoms with O’Shea welcoming back a few long-term injury absentees while giving some more players much-needed experience.
The Italians got off to a good start on their tour, beating Yamaha Jubilo 52-19 in a warm-up game in Nagano, scoring eight tries in all.
Italy play the first Test in Oita, before heading up to Kobe for the second against the Japanese, who they last faced in 2014 in Tokyo.
We have picked out four players to keep a close eye on with a view to the 2019 Championship. Giovanni Licata It seems a matter of when not if Licata establishes himself as a fixture in the Italy back row, and with Sergio Parisse resting for this tour, the former Under-20s skipper will have the chance to stake a claim.
Just 21 years old, Licata made his Test debut last November, featuring in each of the Autumn Internationals.
He then came off the bench against both Wales and Scotland during the NatWest 6 Nations, and having finished the Championship strongly, will be an important figure in Japan.
A No.8 by trade, he is also capable of playing elsewhere in the back row, as he has already shown at international level.
Last year he played his club rugby for Fiamme Oro, while stepping up as a permit player for Zebre, and he will join the franchise full-time from next season.
Michele Campagnaro and Luca Morisi Slightly cheating but it is worth keeping an eye on both Italian centres, Campagnaro and Morisi, who are back fit after long injury lay-offs.
Campagnaro has shone for the Azzurri more recently, in fact in 2017 he was a standout performer, but a torn ACL kept him out for virtually the whole of the season just gone.
Having recovered to feature for Exeter at the very end of the season, he was included in the squad for this tour and will be a key player moving forward.
Morisi’s return will also be welcomed after a nightmare run of injuries that have kept him out of the international set-up since 2015.
A succession of knee injuries have hampered him ever since, but he made his return for Benetton this season and after an extended run of games, is back in the Test reckoning.
The form of Tommaso Castello means that the pair might be rivals for one spot, but O’Shea will be happy to have two players of their game-breaking ability at his disposal.
Jake Polledri Gloucester fans have seen the ball-carrying ability of Polledri up close this season, and O’Shea will want to see him take that onto the international stage.
Called up for the first time during the NatWest 6 Nations, he got his chance in the final game against Scotland and seized it with both hands.
The flanker, who came through the ranks at Hartpury College and is now impressing at Kingsholm, is a physical presence, both with and without the ball.
He was hugely impressive for Gloucester in their Challenge Cup final clash with Cardiff Blues in Bilbao, even if he ended up on the losing side.
And with Parisse absent from the tour, there are spots up for grabs in the back row alongside fellow youngsters Licata and former Hartpury College teammate Sebastian Negri.