It may be a daunting prospect but Italy head coach Franco Smith believes his side will be ‘inspired’ by being drawn alongside New Zealand and France for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Smith’s side have been handed a tough-looking draw with three-time winners, New Zealand, and hosts France joining an American qualifier and African qualifier in Pool A.
The Azzurri are certainly no strangers to facing the All Blacks too, with this set to be their seventh clash at a World Cup, while Italy have only once before squared off against France in the competition – in 2015.
But despite Smith admitting the odds are ‘stacked’ against his team, he is excited for the prospect of taking on two of rugby’s behemoths at his first World Cup in charge of Italy.
“We will face top-level teams – such as the All Blacks and France – in one of the most fascinating and followed competitions in the world of sport,” Smith said.
“Obviously, New Zealand will be a big challenge but it’s also a big inspiration for our guys. France are hosting it, so we really have the odds stacked against us.
“The next appointments will be fundamental to continue in the process of growth and construction of the team that will represent the national team in the near future and, in a wide range, at the World Cup in France in 2023.”
It appears then that Italy face a tall order to progress past the pool stages for the first time in their history, but should they achieve it an opponent from Pool C awaits in the last eight – which could be either Wales or two-time winners Australia.
While New Zealand are a familiar face at World Cups for Italy, they will also be met with well-known Guinness Six Nations foes France.
Smith’s men have only won three contests with their European rivals but can count on classic Guinness Six Nations victories in 2011 and 2013 for inspiration.
Italy captain Luca Bigi added: “In a competition like the World Cup, top-level teams participate and every match represents an incredible challenge.
“We have a very specific path ahead of us to continue to strengthen our team identity and arrive at this appointment in the best possible way.”