Italy's 2009 6 Nations International Championship campaign was disappointing to say the least. They were expected to rumble Scotland again, even though this test was played at Murrayfield, and push all other contenders. But it didn't happen.
Italy certainly pushed Wales all the way at home. The Welsh just got away 20-15. This was the game Italy should have won. They didn't and a very dispirited Azzura were taken apart by France in the next game. No wins, no points and back to holding the wooden spoon.
The strength of Italian rugby at present is their forward pack. This pack is able to match or dominate their opponents. The thorn for the Italians is their backline. They are weak in the pivots, their defence is brittle and they lack confidence in ending good moves in tries.
Leaving a few tired and injured old campaigners at home, Italy then ventured to Australia and New Zealand. It could have been a disaster but it wasn't. With them went a new pivot group in former rugby league recruit Craig Gower and a ferret of a scrum half in Tebaldi. Admittedly against rusty Wallabies and a new-look All Black side (minus Richie McCaw), the Italians played well and were a very solid, if unspectacular, outfit. The new players performed well, and this gave a lift to the Italians. The November tests would give some indication as far as progress made.
What a test it was going to be. To play New Zealand and South Africa first up, both sides hardened and tuned from their Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup battles, was going to place the Azzuri in true perspective.
With the return of their old veterans up front, and in front of 80,000 fans, the Italians pushed the All Blacks in Milan before losing 6-20. Things were looking up. Next up South Africa. Without quite reaching the heights of the previous Saturday, they still performed well enough despite losing 10-32. The Italians finally broke their long losing sequence against a weak Samoan side a week later. Never mind, a win is a win and the boost to confidence assured. But how will all this stack up in the tough 6 Nations competition?
Italy have got to defeat either England or Scotland at home. This is their only real prospect for 2010. They must also perform well away. One of those wins will probably keep them away from the wooden spoon, whilst to win both would place Italy in its best 6 Nations points position ever. Their biggest challenge is to be able to do this without their famous leader Sergio Parisse whose injury will keep him out of all the 6 Nations games.
It's time for Italy to lift.
Can coach Nik Mallet help lift the Italians. Image thanks to www.planet-rugby.com
PREDICTION: One win at home, no wooden spoon and some ground regained.
Carlo Antonio Del Fava
Leonardo Ghiraldini (Capt.)
Head Coach: Nik Mallett
Out Injured: Sergio Parisse (for whole of 6 Nations), Francesco Minto (after being originally selected to the squad)
Out not selected: Ignacio Rouye, Carlos Nieto, Andrea Lo Cicero, Santiago Dellapé, Carlo Festuccia, Luciano Orquera, Pablo Canavosio, Paul Griffen
Recalled: Andrea Marcato, Andrea Masi, Manoa Vosawai
Newcomers: Lorenzo Cittadini, Michele Sepe, Lorenzo Cittadini, Riccardo Bocchino (new cap)