Three to Watch: Italy

There is an air of confidence around Italy’s upcoming Guinness Six Nations campaign: everything seems to be coming together at just the right time for Conor O’Shea’s side.

There is an air of confidence around Italy’s upcoming Guinness Six Nations campaign: everything seems to be coming together at just the right time for Conor O’Shea’s side.

With young talent breaking through on the domestic scene, performances showing encouraging improvements and their talismanic captain being passed fit for battle, there are whispers that the Azzurri may well be in for their best Guinness Six Nations showing.

Despite strong performances throughout the 2018 Championship, Italy found themselves in sixth come mid-March – a result they will no doubt be desperate to improve upon this time around.

With a trip to Murrayfield on February 2 fast approaching, here are three players who could make the difference for them in Rugby’s Greatest Championship.

Luca Sperandio

One of the most exciting sparks in a class of emerging Italian talents, Luca Sperandio has so far enjoyed something of a breakthrough season.

The full-back – who plays his domestic rugby for Benetton Treviso – featured for Italy in the 2017 Championship, making his international debut against France before coming off the bench the following week against Scotland.

But after missing 2018’s iteration, Sperandio will be raring to go after returning to the international set-up in the Autumn Internationals.

The 22-year-old started in three of Italy’s four fixtures – just reward for a Guinness PRO14 season that has seen him accelerated into O’Shea’s plans.

With Benetton, a hat-trick in a 31-30 defeat to Edinburgh Rugby shot him into the European limelight as he demonstrated an impressive range of finishing ability.

Possessing of pace, power and guile, Italy will be hoping that the Guinness Six Nations might come at the perfect time for Sperandio to deliver as a surprise package.

Tommaso Allan

Another key cog in the Benetton side that have blasted their way to second in the Guinness PRO14’s Conference B, Allan is – unlike Sperandio – a veteran of Rugby’s Greatest Championship.

Still only 25, the fly-half made his Championship debut against Wales in 2014 and featured sporadically before nailing down the No.10 jersey in 2018’s Championship.

Like Sperandio, Allan is enjoying a standout season in green with Benetton, reinforcing his reliability with the boot both from the tee and the hand.

With 43 caps for his country under his belt, Allan has developed into one of Italy’s leaders and will no doubt prove a crucial figure as O’Shea looks to integrate several fresh faces into the Azzurri’s XV.

And when Italy get their Guinness Six Nations campaign underway at Murrayfield in less than a fortnight’s time, it will be Allan with the ball in his hands, raring to kick-off a record-breaking effort.

Sergio Parisse

It seems an obvious selection, but Italy’s gifted captain is widely regarded to be the jewel in the Azzurri’s crown.

Having battled an injury that saw him miss out on the Autumn Internationals, Parisse has been declared fit and was included in O’Shea’s 31-man squad.

With 65 appearances in Rugby’s Greatest Championship, the 35-year-old has been around the block and back – but shows no sign of slowing down.

A rock at the back of Italy’s pack, unforgiving in the tackle but with soft hands and a crafty burst of pace in his repertoire, Parisse has the varied skillset to play anywhere across the field.

The Azzurri’s captain since 2008, Parisse knows that his autumn years are beckoning, and he – Italy’s record cap holder – more than anyone would love to better the fourth-place finishes he helped steer the side to in both 2007 and 2013.