Scouting out Italy: The beginning of the Crowley era

The Kieran Crowley era begins for Italy in the Autumn Nations Cup and the Kiwi coach will be hoping to build on his recent success with Benetton.

The Kieran Crowley era begins for Italy in the Autumn Nations Cup and the Kiwi coach will be hoping to build on his recent success with Benetton.

Crowley takes over from Franco Smith, who is now the head of high performance, and will be looking to get off to a good start in the three autumn fixtures – starting with a clash against the country of his birth.

What you need to know

Italy have found life difficult since the 2019 World Cup, blooding a lot of young players but struggling for results as a consequence.

They failed to record a win in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, while they did not play any matches this summer.

But domestically, Italian rugby enjoyed a fine end to the season with Benetton winning the Rainbow Cup, their first major title.

Finishing top of the northern conference, the Italians hosted the Bulls in the final and produced a blistering performance against the South African side to claim the title.

They have since gone two from two in the United Rugby Championship and their Azzurri contingent should arrive in November brimming with confidence.

Captain and coach

As mentioned above, Kieran Crowley has taken over the top job, and the New Zealander arrives with plenty of pedigree, having worked as an All Black selector and coach of Canada before heading to Benetton.

Under his guidance, the Italian side made the Guinness PRO14 play-offs for the first time and then won the Rainbow Cup this year.

That combination of international experience, domestic success and understanding of the Italian game made him the obvious candidate to come in.

Luca Bigi has served as Italy captain since the last World Cup, with the hooker charged with leading a very young side and setting the example.

He will hope to continue in that vein in November as part of a very young Azzurri pack.

Ones to watch

Michele Lamaro

At just 23, Michele Lamaro has already established himself as the heartbeat of the Italian pack, whether that is on the flank or at No.8.

A powerful carrier, he is also incredibly busy around the park and makes a big impact at the breakdown.

With Jake Polledri having been out for an extended period with a serious knee injury, Lamaro has really stepped up to become the key man in the back row.

Federico Mori

Best-known initially for a stunning try for Zebre as an 18-year-old, Federico Mori has gone on to show that he is more than just one viral video.

A stocky, powerful runner, he moved from Zebre to Bordeaux this summer and has been used on the wing early in the season, showing that he is more than just a bosh merchant in the midfield.

Still only 20, he is following in the footsteps of uncle Fabrizio, who was an athletics world champion over 400m hurdles back in 1999.

Paolo Garbisi

Another bright prospect who swapped Italy for France this summer, Paolo Garbisi might be the biggest reason for hope in Italian circles.

The fly-half has taken to international rugby like a duck to water, despite the fact he had almost no senior experience prior to that. His dummy and step is already becoming a major focus for opposition defence coaches.

With teenager Leonardo Marin stepping into his shoes at Benetton since Garbisi moved to Montpellier, he faces competition at fly-half for the Azzurri, but the 21-year-old has the potential to be Italy’s best ten since Diego Dominguez.

Upcoming fixtures

It could not be a trickier start for Crowley and Italy, who kick off their autumn against Rugby Championship winners New Zealand, who the Azzurri have never beaten.

They were due to face off at the last World Cup, but the game was called off because of Typhoon Hagibis, but the game should give Crowley an idea of where his team stands.

A week later will be a Latin derby against Argentina, with Italy looking for a first win over Los Pumas since 2008. There have been some close encounters since then but Argentina are on a run of seven straight wins.

Last up will be more South American opposition in the form of Uruguay. Los Teros picked up a shock win over Fiji at the last World Cup, but Italy will hope to extend their perfect record against them having won all three previous meetings between the sides.

Autumn schedule

Italy v New Zealand, November 6, kick-off: 2pm (local time)

Italy v Argentina, November 13, kick-off: 2pm (local time)

Italy v Uruguay, November 20, kick-off: 2pm (local time)