The Lowdown: Italy

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When was the last time Italy went into a Guinness Six Nations campaign with such high expectations?

When was the last time Italy went into a Guinness Six Nations campaign with such high expectations?

The Azzurri have enjoyed an excellent 12 months under Kieran Crowley, making history and scoring some of the best tries in international rugby.

The 2023 Guinness Six Nations is their biggest test so far, and there will be no easy games over the next eight weeks.

Italy will welcome France to Rome in their first match of the Championship, and it will not get any easier for Crowley’s side, with clashes against England and Ireland to follow next month.

So, with a fascinating feast of rugby ahead of us, let’s look at the lowdown for Italy.

Game plan: The great entertainers

If the Autumn Nations Series is anything to go by, fans can expect Italy to be the great entertainers of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.

They crossed the whitewash 11 times in wins over Samoa, Australia and the defeat against world champions South Africa, averaging 3.67 tries per match.

Italy may be without Paolo Garbisi, who is expected to miss their opening three games, but they have Harlequins playmaker Tommaso Allan pulling the strings and several exciting outside backs to threaten defences with.

So, expect to see them get the ball out wide as quickly and as often as they can.

Coach: Kieran Crowley

Crowley has spearheaded an Italian resurgence since taking over in May 2021.

The Kiwi took charge after five seasons coaching Benetton Rugby, an experience that has no doubt helped him hit the ground running at the Stadio Olimpico.

Crowley has emphasised his desire to see Italy develop their own identity on the pitch, and he has succeeded so far, giving his side a swashbuckling style unlike any other in World rugby.

So it will be interesting to see if the 61-year-old can help Italy take the next step during the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.

Captain: Michele Lamaro

Benetton flanker Michele Lamaro will lead the Azzurri once again during the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.

The 24-year-old may be inexperienced, with just over two years of senior international rugby under his belt and 21 caps to his name, but he is a real nuisance at the breakdown and a true leader around the pitch.

He was crucial to Italy’s win against Wales in 2022 and will be vital if they are to continue their recent revival.

Star man: Ange Capuozzo

There are no prizes for guessing who Italy’s star man will be this spring.

After his heroics in the Autumn Nations Series, it has to be Ange Capuozzo.

He has the X Factor to turn a game on its head, as he showed in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations when his break set up Edoardo Padovani’s last gasp try.

That score helped Italy end a seven-year wait for a Guinness Six Nations win, but it also increased expectations at the Stadio Olimpico.

If Italy are going to live up to those expectations, they will need Capuozzo to be at his absolute best.

Breakthrough candidate: Alessandro Garbisi

Half the players in Italy’s incredibly youthful squad could qualify for the title of ‘breakthrough candidate’, but scrum-half Alessandro Garbisi is still leading the way.

Younger brother of Paolo, Garbisi has established himself in Benetton’s starting XV this season and already has four caps for his country to his name.

He even scored on his debut, a 45-13 win against Romania in July 2022.

If he is half as good as his brother, then Italy will have one hell of a half-back pairing on their hands for years to come.

So keep an eye on Garbisi over the next eight weeks.

Unsung hero: Danilo Fischetti

Danilo Fischetti gave the Italy back line the platform to play their exciting brand of rugby time and time again over the autumn.

Rock solid at the set-piece, the 25-year-old has become a real difference maker in the loose since his international debut.

He made nine offloads and boasted an impressive 96% tackling success rate in his final season in the United Rugby Championship, putting him in the top 25 players in the league.

He was rewarded with a move to London Irish, where he has been a consistent performer off the bench this season.

In the victory in Cardiff, Fischetti’s ability to turn ball over was crucial to Italy’s success, while his work-rate was in evidence when he was the first man to a Lamaro kick through on a counter-attack that started in the Azzurri in-goal area.

2022 performance: Sixth

At first, it looked like business as usual for Italy during the 2022 Guinness Six Nations.

They were beaten 37-10 by France in Paris in their opening game before falling to a 33-0 defeat to England in Round 2.

A 57-6 loss in Dublin where they played much of the game with 13 men followed, but Crowley’s side came to life in their last two games.

The 33-22 defeat to Scotland swung largely on a Chris Harris breakaway try when Italy looked like they were going to score.

And a week later, the Azzurri recorded that historic win against Wales.

Since then, Italy won two out of three in the summer, even if there was a first loss to Georgia. And in November they added a big win over Samoa and a first-ever victory over Australia, with momentum certainly building into 2023.

Projected line-up

15 Ange Capuozzo, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Edoardo Padovani, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Stephen Varney, 1 Danilo Fischetti, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 3 Marco Riccioni, 4 Niccolò Cannone, 5 Federico Ruzza, 6 Sebastian Negri, 7 Michele Lamaro (captain), 8 Lorenzo Cannone

Home ground: Stadio Olimpico

With a history spanning millennia and some of the most well-known tourist spots in the world, The Eternal City is unlike any other capital.

It has great food for every budget, an incredible history and brilliant transport links to help you get to the Stadio Olimpico.

The ground is an iconic place to watch rugby, with a one-of-a-kind design, but it is quite far away from the city centre, so be sure to give yourself time to check out everything Rome has to offer.

Strength: A back three with X Factor

Italy’s back three can punish any defence in the world, they are that good.

They will miss the pace and power of Monty Ioane, but they still have Capuozzo and Pierre Bruno at their disposal, and that’s more than enough firepower to blow some holes in defences.

If the forwards can create the space, fans can expect to see some exciting stuff when Italy go wide during the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.

Weakness: Dominant ball carriers

Italy lack dominant ball carriers in their forward pack.

As a result, they can often be knocked back in contact and struggle to get over the gain line.

They need a lot of quick ball to feed their exciting backs and get the most out of them, but every second and every metre counts at this level.

So Italy will need their forwards to step up and match the likes of France and England for physicality if they are to remain on an upward trajectory and make real progress this year.

What the press are saying:

Italian rugby journalist Enrico Borra: “Believe it or not but Italy have only lost twice in their last seven official outings, and one of those two losses came against world champions South Africa, at the end of a highly abrasive November.

“In the last ten months, Lamaro and his side have made history, winning in Cardiff and against Australia for the first time ever.

“Now they are approaching a Six Nations edition that allows them to play three times in Rome in front of a finally excited again crowd.

“Could it get any better for the Azzurri?

“The broad group is now wider than ever but unexpected problems lie at hooker and in the playmaking roles at the moment.

“On the flight deck, the void left by Paolo Garbisi’s injury will put some unwanted extra pressure on Tommy Allan’s shoulder.

“Young hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi, Player of the Match against the Wallabies, was forced to undergo knee surgery in the first days of the new year, pushing Benetton’s Giacomo Nicotera into a consistent starting role, with old but gold Luca Bigi and inexperienced Marco Manfredi waiting to jump in.

“Italy has plenty of power, talent and versatility in the pack, a very exciting and young scrum-half group and some serious lethal weapons in midfield and in the back three roles, but those two young missing players are so important in so many aspects of the Italian game that it could be hard to effectively replace them in such a short timeframe.”

If they were a pop group, they would be… Maneskin

Italy had not enjoyed real success on the rugby field or in the Eurovision Song Contest since the 1990s.

However, like Crowley, Maneskin came out of nowhere, ending a 31-year wait for a first-place finish in the international song competition.

Both Italy’s rugby team and Maneskin have gone from strength to strength, setting new standards for what can be achieved on the world stage this year.

The Azzurri recorded historic wins over Wales and Australia, and the rock band were nominated in the Best New Artist category at the 2023 Grammy Awards.