In the week leading up to the start of the 2016 RBS Six Nations, Craig Wright will be looking at each of the nations bidding to be crowned champions on 19 March. Next up, he takes a look at Italy’s prospects for this year’s championship.
Rugby World Cup recap: A feeling of “same old, same old” surrounded the Italian camp after the Rugby World Cup. With inspirational captain Sergio Parisse limited to just one appearance due to injury, the Azzuri made hard work of their wins over Canada and Romania, and were outplayed and out-thought by Six Nations rivals Ireland and France. However, there was one bright moment for the Italians – Mauro Bergamasco wrote himself into the record books by equalling Brian Lima’s record of tournament appearances by appearing at his fifth World Cup.
State of the Nation: This year’s Italian vintage is very much a team looking to the future. With Mauro Bergamasco having now retired, and with Leonardo Ghiraldini, Josh Furno and Tommaso Allan part of a lengthy injury list, coach Jacques Brunel has included 10 uncapped players amongst his pre-Six Nations squad. As ever, Parisse will be the focal point and talisman for this team, but this year the Stade Francais number eight will also take on a mentorship role to his young colleagues. Will this young team be over-awed by more established names, or will they rise to the occasion?
One to watch: George Biagi (below). The Zebre second row has come on leaps and bounds this season in the Guinness Pro12, and will be looking to stamp his authority on the Italian second row. With Josh Furno missing for at least part of the championship and Marco Bortolami not the player he once was, Biagi has the potential and the talent to become an integral part of the Italian pack for years to come. Born in Scotland, Biagi is slowly becoming an important player for a different team in blue.
What they said:
Sergio Parisse: “As captain, especially with the ten players my job is to try to help them and give them confidence. There is a lot of pressure when you play an international test match. The majority have not played in stadiums like the Stade de France.”
Title chances: Let’s be honest – barring an upset eclipsing that of Japan’s win over South Africa, Italy will not be walking away with the title. The squad is acutely lacking in experience, and with trips to Paris and Cardiff awaiting, they could find themselves on the wrong end of a few score lines. However, no-one can ever accuse Italy of not believing in themselves, and with one of the world’s best players guiding the ship, you would be very surprised if they didn’t cause a few bloody noses here and there. Probably the favourites for the wooden spoon, but they’ll be everyone’s second team!