Following the spring highs of a historic Guinness Six Nations victory in Cardiff over Wales, Italy experienced a rollercoaster summer Test campaign as the Azzurri continued to build under Kieran Crowley.
Crowley drafted in most of his senior squad for the summer Tests, including the likes of Michele Lamaro, Tommaso Allan, Edoardo Padovani as well as rising star Ange Capuozzo – whose match-winning try in March grabbed headlines.
Fly-half Paolo Garbisi was given limited game time after his Top 14-winning campaign with Montpellier, but his uncapped brother Alessandro was given a chance to shine as one of four uncapped players included.
A year out from the Rugby World Cup in France and with the 2023 Championship on the horizon, the Italians matched-up against Portugal and Romania before facing Georgia in their concluding Test in Batumi.
We have a look at how the summer went and where it leaves the Azzurri.
How did they come in?
Italy were riding the crest of a wave ahead of their summer Test fixtures.
Improving performances in the Guinness Six Nations were underlined by a famous victory over Wales in Cardiff in the final round of the 2022 Championship, with Paolo Garbisi kicking the winning points in a 22-21 triumph.
Before that historic result, Crowley’s men had also pushed eventual Grand Slam champions France close in the opening round before giving Scotland a scare in Round 4 of the Championship in Rome.
The Azzurri were given a reality check in their opening summer Test fixture against Portugal in Lisbon.
Although the Italians managed to maintain the winning habit, it took a 79th-minute penalty try for the visitors to secure the win having trailed for much of the match.
Crowley’s men were 17-10 down at the break and fell a further seven points behind before Podovani and Gianmarco Lucchesi restored parity.
The hosts went ahead once more with another try before Cherif Traore’s converted score saved Italian blushes before a late penalty try completed a pulsating tie 38-31 in their favour.
Crowley reflected: “In the first half, in particular, we made life difficult for ourselves. We gave up too much. In the second half, we spoke and analysed what was happening and were able to come away with the win.”
Italy righted some wrongs from the Portugal game against Romania in Bucharest, breezing past their opponents to claim a 45-13 win with only three players retained from their Portuguese travails.
Tommaso Menoncello chipped in with two tries while Allan, Niccolo Cannone, Alessandro Garbisi, Marco Zanon and Giacomo Nicotera all contributed a score each in the comfortable victory.
In a season of landmark results, it was their first away win against Romania in 31 years.
Attention swiftly turned to the match-up with Georgia, a hotly anticipated affair considering the Lelos’ recent ascent.
Italy found themselves behind early on thanks to tries from Alexander Todua and Tedo Abzhandadze for the hosts.
Menoncello’s response was cancelled out by Abzhandadze’s second score of the game to see the Italians down 19-13 at the break.
Summer Tests Report – Ireland
Unfortunately for the Azzurri two second half penalties, courtesy of Allan’s right boot, were all they could muster while Georgia added a further three penalties.
Two for Abzhandadze either side of Gela Aprasidze’s long distance three-pointer bagged the Eastern European’s their first victory over a Tier 1 nation.
Who put their hand up: Tommaso Menoncello
At 19, Menoncello is still eligible for the nation’s exciting Under-20 squad.
And having stood out as a one-to-watch with a try on debut against France in February, Menoncello continued his upward trajectory this summer.
Scores against Romania and Georgia showed why he is tipped to be a star for years to come.
Despite starting one Test on the wing, it is at outside centre that his long-term future may lie.
This summer may prove vital for Italy if they are to seize on the promise that win against Wales in March provided.
The loss to Georgia and struggles against Portugal will certainly sharpen the mind of Crowley and his coaching staff ahead of sterner tests in November.
Two wins and a defeat from three games is still not to be sniffed at, however, especially as this is an Italian squad that is learning more and more with every game ahead of a big 18 months.
Summer Tests Report – Wales
Pacific Nations Cup victors Samoa, Australia and reigning world champions South Africa will really highlight the impact of Crowley’s revolution ahead of next year’s Championship and the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The incorporation of talented prospects from their Under-20 squad, who have performed impressively in the Six Nations Under-20s and the Summer Series, will also be a priority moving forwards.
But for the time being, Italy still appear to be moving in the right direction.