Rugby World Cup Pedigree:
Italy’s debut in the Rugby World Cup started badly. Very badly. A 70-6 win by the eventual champions New Zealand is how it began. Since then it has had its highs and lows but has generally settled in the pool stages. Their form this year has been mixed as well: they managed to beat France for the first time in the Six Nations but still won the wooden spoon on points difference behind Scotland, and then lost in Edinburgh last weekend in a warm-up match. Italy does have quality players – the likes of Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiovanni are said by some to be world class, can they step up to the mark and make a bigger impact this year?
There’s one word that can describe the Italians in this event and that is consistent. They have played in every Rugby World Cup but failed to get out of the pool stages each time. In a tough pool where Australia and Ireland are favourites to reach the quarter finals, can they spring a shock and finally make it to the knock-out stages?
Best Rugby World Cup moment:
Despite having never made it out of the pool stages, there is still a fair share of action for Italians to be proud of over the past 24 years. One moment that does stand out is Italy’s loss to New Zealand at Welford Road in 1991. The two countries have a past in Rugby World Cups, with the All Blacks putting on more than 50 points against the Azzuri on four occasions. Italy showed New Zealand what they were made of in 1991 to restrict them to just 31 points while scoring 21 of their own. That determination from the side was so admirable, one of the rare occasions where a loss feels like a victory.
Biggest Rugby World Cup win: 31-5 v Portugal (September 17, 2007)
Biggest Rugby World Cup defeat: 101-3 v New Zealand (October 14, 1999)
One focal point about any Italy side is the scrum, and at the heart of it is the tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni. In combination with Salvatore Perugini and Leonardo Ghiraldini, Italy have a front row full of power and experience. Castro is a presence in all areas of the game: not only has he tormented opposition props both for Leicester and for Italy but he is handy in the loose, a good ball carrier and effective in the rucks.
One to watch:
There is a battle between the scrum halves for Italy, with both Fabio Semenzato and Edoardo Gori putting in impressive displays in the number 9 shirt. Semenzato is currently the man in possession of the starting jersey; he was one of the stand out players for Italy during the Six Nations and also in their warm-up match against Scotland. Gori impressed during last year’s autumn internationals but was more often relegated to the bench during the Six Nations. Both have what you want from a scrum half and this battle for the first choice spot is set to continue throughout the World Cup: a good selection headache for Nick Mallett.
Rugby World Cup Fixtures:
v Australia (September 11, 04:30)
v Russia (September 20, 08:30)
v USA (September 27, 07:30)
v Ireland (October 2, 08:30)
Having lost by just two points to them earlier in the year in the Six Nations, Italy know they have what it takes to beat Ireland, and if they can do it in the last pool match of the World Cup then they could find themselves in the knock-out stages for the first time.
Odds: At 1000/1 Italy are equal with the likes of Canada and Romania, but they could spring a surprise.
Italy coach Nick Mallett says:
“Trying to make Italy competitive and hopefully successful is as big a challenge as I’ve ever had as coach.”
As improved as Italy have been over the past couple of years, I just think that Australia and Ireland are too strong to allow them to progress to the latter stages of the World Cup.
Position: I think they’ll come third in their pool.