It is now less than a fortnight until the Guinness Six Nations returns with a bang at the Aviva Stadium, where Italy are hoping for a change in fortunes after a tricky Championship to date.
The Azzurri’s clash in Dublin on October 24 is the remaining outstanding fixture in Round 4 and the following weekend sees Franco Smith’s side welcome England to Rome in the second of three games on Super Saturday.
Italy could have a big influence on the destination of the Championship if they can spring a surprise against England, who are currently level on points with France at the top of the table, while these two matches will also allow Smith the opportunity to cast an eye over some potential future stars.
STORY SO FAR
Italy began the Championship looking for a first Guinness Six Nations victory since 2015.
The Championship opener took Italy to Cardiff in a match between two sides entering new eras, with Franco Smith taking charge of the visitors for the first time and Wayne Pivac doing likewise for the hosts.
Smith handed debuts to Niccolò Cannone and Danilo Fischetti but Pivac was the happier of the two coaches at the final whistle as Josh Adams’ hat-trick helped Wales ease to a 42-0 win.
It was the first time Italy had drawn a blank in the competition since 2017, though Smith insisted the result was “not a reflection of the quality of the side”.
The fixture list got no easier for the Azzurri, who travelled to Paris the following weekend to take on a France side buoyed by an opening round victory over World Cup finalists England.
Italy conceded two early tries but put in a spirited showing, with Matteo Minozzi, Federico Zani and Mattia Bellini all touching down as Smith’s side showed they could cause problems in attack.
Despite a much-improved performance, Italy were beaten 35-22 and finished one score short of a try bonus point, meaning they were still looking to get off the mark when Scotland visited the Stadio Olimpico in Round 3.
Scotland had also been beaten in their opening two matches and were yet to score a try in the Championship ahead of their visit to Rome, but Italy’s hopes of a much-needed victory were dented by Stuart Hogg’s superb solo score in the first half.
Chris Harris and Adam Hastings crossed after the break and Italy failed to trouble the scoreboard for the second time in three matches, eventually going down to a 17-0 defeat.
They have not played an international fixture since and will hope for an improvement when the competition resumes.
WHAT ARE THEY AIMING FOR?
Italy’s prime objective will be to get points on the board – preferably from a victory, or at least through bonus points – to show signs of progress.
The trip to Ireland perhaps offers them a chance to do so. Though a tough assignment, Andy Farrell’s side only sit two places above Italy in the Championship and the Azzurri could upset Ireland’s title tilt with a win.
The visit of England the following weekend then offers Smith’s side a chance to make history.
Italy have never beaten England in the 26 meetings between the two sides and they will be determined to give Eddie Jones’ men a run for their money in Rome.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Italy have plenty of talent in their backline, not least when it comes to outside-halves.
Tommaso Allen is the man in possession, having started at No.10 in each of Italy’s three games so far, with Carlo Canna outside him in midfield.
Canna has been playing at fly-half for his club side Zebre, however, and gives Smith another option should he wish to shake things up.
Waiting in the wings is Paolo Garbisi, Allen’s understudy at Benetton who has impressed in the early weeks of the Guinness PRO14 and is one of seven uncapped players in the Italy squad.
Gloucester Rugby’s Stephen Varney is another, while Federico Mori, Jacopo Trulla, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Riccardo Favretto and Giovanni Pettinelli are also hoping to earn their first international caps.
In the pack, hooker Luca Bigi captains the side and Braam Steyn will look to make his presence felt at No.8.
Wing Monty Ioane – the nephew of Australia star Digby – has been invited to train in the set-up and will look to seize any opportunities that may open up.