State of the Nation: Italy

Italy will begin a new era in 2024 under Gonzalo Quesada, who takes over from Kieran Crowley in leading a new generation of Gli Azzurri.

Italy will begin a new era in 2024 under Gonzalo Quesada, who takes over from Kieran Crowley in leading a new generation of Gli Azzurri.

The second youngest team at the World Cup entered with ambitions of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time, but after winning their first two games, found clashes with New Zealand and France too much.

The manner of those defeats was demoralising but the hope is that under Quesada, who has enjoyed success at club level in France, as well as an assistant for Les Bleus and his native Argentina, the building blocks are in place for growth.

World Cup performance

Drawn alongside New Zealand and France, reaching the quarter-finals for the first time was always going to be an ask for Italy.

They kicked off their campaign with an impressive victory over Namibia, running in seven tries in a 52-8 win with seven different try-scorers.

That was followed by a second success, this time against Uruguay, in a very different encounter. Despite an early for Lorenzo Pani, the Azzurri found themselves in trouble when Lorenzo Cannone and Danilo Fischetti were sin-binned within two minutes of one another, the latter conceding a penalty try in the process.

Uruguay took advantage of the extra man and early in the second half they led 17-7. From there, Italy fought back, crossing four times in 15 minutes to make the game safe and run out 38-17 winners.

That gave them two shots at reaching the quarter-finals, with wins over either the All Blacks or the hosts likely to secure them a spot in the last eight.

In both games, however, they quickly let the game get away from them, with Aaron Smith scoring a hat-trick in New Zealand’s 96-17 success, before Thomas Ramos grabbed 20 points as France won 60-7 in the final group game.

Standout performers

With two tries in the first two games, Lorenzo Cannone continued his rise as one of the foundational pieces in the Italy pack.

Even with a yellow card against Uruguay, the No.8 showed that as a ball-carrier, there are few more dynamic.

Elsewhere, Ange Capuozzo continues to excel, whether it is on the wing, or in particular, at full-back. The dilemma for Crowley, which Quesada will also have to wrestle with, is whether you can fit Paolo Garbisi, Tommaso Allan and Capuozzo into the same backline, and if so, does it involve shifting Garbisi to inside centre or Allan to full-back?

Departing players

Only Australia took a younger squad to the World Cup than Italy, so unsurprisingly, there have been very few players making the decision to move on after the competition in France.

So far, the only confirmed retirement has come from versatile prop Federico Zani. The 34-year-old decided that the time was right to call it a day and it remains to be seen whether anyone else will follow suit.

Besides Zani, the next oldest pair in the squad that travelled to France were centre Luca Morisi and former captain Luca Bigi, both 32.

Potential call-ups

The last two seasons have seen Italy’s Under-20s sides impress, including maiden victories over England in 2022, followed by a top-half finish in the Six Nations in 2023.

A number of those prospects have already broken onto the international scene, but others could follow suit in February.

Back-rower Ross Vintcent has made a flying start to the season with Exeter Chiefs and if he maintains his current form, could be an option on the Test scene.

Elsewhere, the likes of Luca Rizzoli, the Zebre prop, and flanker Alessandro Izekor, of Benetton, are others who could come into contention.

Guinness Six Nations prospects

Italy will kick off life under Gonzalo Quesada in Rome when they welcome England to the Stadio Olimpico in Round 1.

This is the only fixture which they have not won in the Guinness Six Nations, so there is the possibility of making history right from the off for Quesada.

That is followed by two daunting trips to last year’s top two, Ireland and then France, the latter in Lille as Les Bleus travel the country next year with the Stade de France being renovated.

Round 4 then sees Italy return to Rome where they play host to Scotland, having seen comeback attempts against the Scots fall short twice in 2023.

Last, but not least, is a trip to Cardiff, two years after that memorable success at Principality Stadium.

Guinness Six Nations fixtures

February 3: Italy v England, Stadio Olimpico, Kick-off 3:15pm (local time) February 11: Ireland v Italy, Aviva Stadium, Kick-off 3pm February 25: France v Italy, Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille, Kick-off 4pm (local time) March 9: Italy v Scotland, Stadio Olimpico, Kick-off 3:15pm (local time) March 16: Wales v Italy, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 2:15pm