Six Nations 2021 Championship in focus: Italy | Rugby Union News

February 5, 2021 0 By boss


Can Italy avoid the wooden spoon for the sixth year in a row?

Can Italy avoid the wooden spoon for the sixth year in a row?

Italy have been condemned to the wooden spoon for the past five editions of the Six Nations, but could that change in 2021?

With former Springbok Franco Smith now leading the team and several exciting young players starting to emerge, there is a glimmer of hope to give a bit of optimism to Azzurri fans.

It is not an easy start though, with this year’s two favourites France and England up first for them. Here we run the rule over Italy’s prospects…

Fixtures

  • France – Stadio Olimpico – Saturday, February 6 – 2.15pm (GMT)
  • England – Twickenham – Saturday, February 13 – 2.15pm (GMT)
  • Ireland – Stadio Olimpico – Saturday, February 27 – 2.15pm (GMT)
  • Wales – Stadio Olimpico – Saturday, March 13 – 2.15pm (GMT)
  • Scotland – Murrayfield – Saturday, March 20 – 2.15pm (GMT)

What’s hot?

It has been a long time since Italian fans had much to cheer about as far as the senior men’s team go, but the work being done developing young players in the country seems to have started yielding results.

Wins over Scotland and Wales at U20 level in recent years have seen the Azzurri’s youngsters show themselves capable of competing with the more established nations and several of those are now starting to make their way through to open-age level.

Franco Smith was confirmed as Italy coach on a permanent basis in June

Franco Smith was confirmed as Italy coach on a permanent basis in June

Although they did not win, there were some encouraging signs in some of Italy’s performances during the Autumn Nations Cup, particularly the home game against Scotland where they more than matched the visitors for large parts before falling away in the closing stages.

The younger members of the squad will surely have learnt much from those games, but the question now is can they kick on and start to turn Italy into a competitive side in the Six Nations?

What’s not?

Italy come into this year’s tournament having suffered 22 consecutive defeats against their fellow Tier One nations and without a victory in the Six Nations since their 22-19 win over Scotland at Murrayfield in 2015.

The voices questioning whether they should still be a part of the Six Nations will only grow louder if that run continues in 2021, so the pressure is on for them to show the critics they are worthy of a place among Europe’s elite.

Jake Polledri will miss the Six Nations due to injury

Jake Polledri will miss the Six Nations due to injury

The Italians’ cause has not been helped by the loss of back-row Jake Polledri, with the Gloucester man undergoing surgery on a knee injury suffered against England last year which has ruled him out for an unspecified period.

Smith has been unable to call on the services of Matteo Minozzi either as the full-back ruled himself out of entering the Covid-secure bubble for another two months due to the physical and mental tiredness, so the Azzurri will be lacking two key players.

What’s changed?

Having taken charge of the team on a caretaker basis for last year’s Six Nations, Smith was subsequently handed the head coach role permanently in June last year on a contract which it is reported will run up to the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The former South Africa international has set about reshaping the team with an eye on the future, underlined by the fact Italy head into this year’s championship with a squad which has an average age of just over 22.

Riccardo Favretto is one of four uncapped player in Italy's squad

Riccardo Favretto is one of four uncapped player in Italy’s squad

Hooker Marco Manfredi, prop Daniele Rimpelli, second row Riccardo Favretto and centre Juan Ignacio Brex are the four uncapped players in line to make their bow in the tournament, while 17 other members of the 32-man squad have 10 caps or fewer.

Key player

Paolo Garbisi: With Polledri injured and Minozzi unavailable, all eyes will be on the 20-year-old fly-half after he showed plenty of glimpses of his potential during the final two matches of last year’s Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup.

Garbisi has already experienced success against the big boys with the national team at age-group levels, helping Italy to a shock win over England while playing for the U18s and the U20s defeat Wales this time last year.

The Benetton No 10 was due to captain Italy at last year’s U20 World Championship as well before it was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and has shown himself more than capable of making the step up to senior international level.

Paolo Garbisi is one of the up-and-coming stars of Italian rugby

Paolo Garbisi is one of the up-and-coming stars of Italian rugby

He cites England captain Owen Farrell and New Zealand great Dan Carter as his rugby icons, and if he can get anywhere near the heights those two have scaled then Garbisi will be an integral part of the Italy team for the coming years.

Championship record

Six Nations since 2000: Best finish of fourth place twice (2007, 2013).

Italy 32-man squad for the 2021 Six Nations

Forwards (19): Pietro Ceccarelli, Danilo Fischetti, Marco Riccioni, Daniele Rimpelli, Cherif Traore, Giosue Zilocchi, Luca Bigi, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Marco Manfredi, Niccolo Cannone, Riccardo Favretto, Marco Lazzaroni, David Sisi, Cristian Stoian, Michele Lamaro, Maxime Mbanda, Johan Meyer, Sebastian Negri, Federico Ruzza.

Backs (13): Callum Braley, Guglielmo Palazzani, Stephen Varney, Tommaso Allan, Carlo Canna, Paolo Garbisi, Mattia Bellini, Juan Ignacio Brex, Monty Ioane, Federico Mori, Luca Sperandio, Jacopo Trulla, Marco Zanon.

Invited players: Michelangelo Biondelli, Tommaso Boni, Renato Giammarioli, Tommaso Menoncello, Marcello Violi.





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