Competitive club performances in the PRO14 and the development work of Conor O’Shea cannot mask the challenges facing Italy ahead of this tournament.
Improved performances in the PRO14 by clubs Benetton and Zebre and the continued development work carried out by coach head coach O’Shea has raised the hopes of long-suffering Italian supporters. But despite that, Italy enter this tournament armed with the kind of form that could be ruthlessly exposed by each of their opponents.
The Azzurri have won just one match in their last 11 Tests and since entering the tournament in 2000, the Italians have finished bottom of the table 12 times.
They’ll be targeting a scalp, but their form on the road has been terrible in this competition and they face many pundits’ favourites England, in Rome for their opening game.
- Six Nations since 2000: Zero titles.
- Italy have played in 18 tournaments, recording 11 wins and finishing with the wooden spoon on 12 occasions.
- England – Stadio Olimpico – Sunday, February 4 – 3pm (GMT)
- Ireland – Aviva Stadium – Saturday, February 10 – 2.15pm (GMT)
- France – Orange Velodrome (Marseille) – Friday, February 23 – 8pm (GMT)
- Wales – Principality Stadium – Sunday, March 11 – 3pm (GMT)
- Scotland – Stadio Olimpico – Saturday, March 17 -12.30pm (GMT)
Italy were beaten in all five of their matches conceding the most points (201) and scoring the least (50). All will hope for a huge improvement in 2018.
In Conor O’Shea, Mike Catt and Wayne Smith, Italy have an experienced coaching team with the ability to identify weaknesses in the opposition and create advantages.
Last year, O’Shea left England scratching their heads for a time when his team managed to negate the offside rule at the ruck and swarm into England’s lines.
This year, Italy have the benefit of greater time investment on the part of O’Shea and it’s expected they’ll be thoroughly prepared going into each Test.
In addition, Italy have been buoyed by the form of Benetton who have returned six wins this season in the PRO14.
Domestically, Italy find themselves behind the development curve of the home nations particularly in terms of depth.
Their senior professional base is built around two teams, Benetton and Zebre, and losing has become both a bad and regular habit.
That lack of depth and resources makes losing a difficult habit to shake. In that context the fact that Italy have recorded tournament victories against everyone but England is notable.
There is little doubt they will arrive into this tournament better prepared than last season. The problem is every other team will too.
There is a tangible feeling that Italian rugby under O’Shea is on a better path. But the former Ireland international and Harlequins’ coach is very much about the long game, developing structures he hopes will outlast his tenure.
This wider professional application may also have inspired a change in attitude with captain Sergio Parisse declaring that Italy are no longer satisfied with being competitive. They are now targeting wins.
Sergio Parisse. The 129-cap veteran is the beating heart of this Italian team.
The clock may be winding down on what has been an incredible career, but he remains Italy’s most important player. Vastly experienced and eternally optimistic, Parisse has come to signify the best of Italian rugby.
Italy’s 31-man squad for the 2018 Six Nations
BACKS (13) –
Back-Three: Mattia Bellini, Jayden Hayward, Matteo Minozzi, Edoardo Padovani
Centre: Tomasso Benvenuti, Tomasso Boni, Giulio Bisegni, Tomasso Castello
Fly-half: Tomasso Allan, Carlo Canna, Ian McKinley
Scrum-half: Edoardo Gori, Marcello Violi
FORWARDS (18) –
Hooker: Luca Bigi, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Oliviero Fabiani
Prop: Simone Ferrari, Andrea Lovotti, Tiziano Pasquali, Nicola Quaglio, Marco Riccioni
Second-row: George Biagi, Dean Budd, Federico Ruzza, Alexander Zanni
Back-row: Renato Giammarioli, Giovanni Licata, Maxime Mbanda , Sebastian Negri, Sergio Parisse (c), Abraham Steyn.