Story of the NatWest 6 Nations: Italy

Italy were left to wonder what might have been after the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations but with some record-breaking newcomers and attacking verve, there are reasons for optimism.

Italy were left to wonder what might have been after the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations but with some record-breaking newcomers and attacking verve, there are reasons for optimism.

Under Conor O’Shea, the Azzurri looked set to pick up their first win of the campaign against Scotland om Round Five, only for Greig Laidlaw’s late penalty to deny them.

Click here for the final 2018 NatWest 6 Nations table

And while they finished the campaign without a success, the emergence of players like Matteo Minozzi, who was nominated for the NatWest 6 Nations Player of the Championship, and Sebastian Negri bodes well for them going forwards.   Here is the story of the Italian campaign:   Italy 15-46 England   The Azzurri faced a daunting opening encounter at home to the two-time defending champions England, and found themselves on the back foot immediately with Anthony Watson scoring two tries in the first 11 minutes.

They responded with a try from Tommaso Benvenuti, and trailed 17-10 at the break, with Mattia Bellini then going over just before the hour.

Italy could have had another but Tommaso Boni’s try was ruled out for a forward pass and from there they succumbed to a late English flurry, eventually conceding seven tries.   Ireland 56-19 Italy   The Italian defence again struggled away in Dublin as Ireland raced into a 28-0 lead after just 21 minutes at the Aviva Stadium.

The score was 35-0 by half-time, but Italy did hit back with three second-half scores, the first coming from fly-half Tommaso Allan, before Edoardo Gori went over for their second.

Jacob Stockdale had gone over for the first of two Irish tries between those scores, and after he had made it a double, Minozzi crossed for his first Test try.

And had it not been for a miraculous cover tackle on Bellini by Keith Earls in the final minute, Italy would have claimed their first try-bonus point of the competition.

France 34-17 Italy   Italy then travelled the short distance to Marseille to take on France in the first home game played outside the French capital.

At the Orange Stade Vélodrome, Italy went behind early when Paul Gabrillagues crossed from close range but they responded with a penalty try and were in front for much of the first half.

Maxime Machenaud’s kicking allowed France to take an 11-7 lead into half-time and just before the hour that lead remained at four, with Les Bleus up 14-10.

However Hugo Bonneval’s try, followed by another for Mathieu Bastareaud, effectively sealed the win, although Minozzi got his second of the campaign after running a good support line late on while Negri caught the eye all evening with his hard-running style.   Wales 38-14 Italy   As had been the case against Wales, Italy had a nightmare start in Cardiff, going 14-0 down within six minutes at Principality Stadium.

That was a huge source of frustration for O’Shea, whose team were left to play catch-up but they responded with a fine try from Minozzi, his third in as many weeks and another example of his finishing ability.

Trailing 17-7, Italy conceded another try early in the second half, and despite enjoying plenty of possession, they could only manage one more try of their own, with Bellini the man to get it as Wales ran out comfortable winners.

Italy 27-29 Scotland   Jake Polledri was handed his debut for the visit of Scotland, and Italy were on track for a first win when they led 24-12 midway through the second half in Rome.

Despite Fraser Brown’s early try for Scotland, the Azzurri and fly-half Tommaso Allan were able to control matters, with the Benetton man grabbing the first try for the home side.

His grubber then set up Minozzi for their second, and his fourth in as many games – the first time this had ever been achieved by an Italian in the Championship – and Italy led 17-12 at half-time.

Allan got his second early in the second half, and Italy were in control, but when Sean Maitland went over with 19 minutes to go, Scotland were right back in it.

Stuart Hogg got the fourth Scottish try nine minutes from time as the visitors hit the front for the first time since the 14th minute, but Italy retook the lead through the boot of Allan.

However they could not hold on in those final four minutes, with Laidlaw punishing a penalty at a maul and denying the Azzurri.

That was a heart-breaking way to let victory slip through their fingers, but despite that, O’Shea will be keen to build on a strong end to the campaign.

And with blindside flanker Negri, full-back Minozzi and openside Polledri all having taken their opportunities during the Championship, O’Shea has the building blocks in place ahead of a summer tour to Japan.