Six Nations 2021: A bluffer’s guide to Italy

Young squad light on experience - with 15 players who have less than 10 caps

Benetton’s Riccardo Favretto is a key player for Italy. Photograph: Inpho

Benetton’s Riccardo Favretto is a key player for Italy. Photograph: Inpho

 

Have Italy realised the Six Nations Championship is no country for old men, so to speak?

It seems that way. If Chelsea are known as the Pensioners in football then it was a moniker that uncharitably described the age profile of a number of Italian squads through recent years. They no longer resemble a care home for internationals past their peak with not a single member of the 32-man squad 30 or over.

Their captain and hooker Luca Bigi is one of the oldest at 29 while their highly regarded secondrow is Riccardo Favretto is just 19 years old. A number of other players have been invited to join the Italian training camp including centre Tommaso Menoncello who they’re very sweet on, and at just 18, will feature for their Under-20 side this summer. The improvements in results and performance at that particular age-grade over the last few years have been heartening.

That’s all well and good but isn’t it a long time since Italy managed a W in the Six Nations?

The number 27 is a prime reciprocal magic square, the atomic number of cobalt, the number of letters in the Spanish alphabet, a song by Fall Out Boy, the value all the colours add up to in snooker and also the number of matches Italy have played in the Six Nations since they last won a match, round three of the 2015 tournament when they beat Scotland 22-19 at Murrayfield.

Is there any sign of that streak coming to an end?

There’s a temptation to take a quote from Dante’s Inferno where the Italian author wrote, ‘abandon all hope ye who enter here,’ as a slogan for the last five and a bit Six Nations competitions.

What can head coach Franco Smith do?

Well there isn’t much impetus coming from the performances of the two Italian sides in the Pro14 this season. Benetton has lost all nine matches and their coach Kieran Crowley, who made them very competitive over several seasons, is leaving at the end of the campaign to be replaced by former Harlequins coach Paul Gustard. Michael Bradley’s Zebre have fared considerably better with three wins from 11 matches, the same number as the Dragons and the Glasgow Warriors but with fewer bonus points.

Italy are very like Wales where they don’t get much of a bounce from club results when going to play for the national team. They face a ridiculously tough schedule, hosting France next Saturday before travelling to Twickenham and then welcoming Ireland to Rome in week three. They then have Wales at home and Scotland away.

Won’t they be missing one of their key players?

Wasps’ fullback Matteo Minozzi asked not to be considered for the tournament as he is ‘physically and mentally tired.’ An outstanding attacking player he is a big loss to the group, one that contains four new faces in Favretto, prop Daniele Rimpetti, hooker Marco Manfredi and centre Juan Ignacio Brex. It’s a very young squad light on experience with 15 players who have less than 10 caps.

One to watch?

The 20-year-old outhalf Paolo Garbisi is an excellent footballer, who plays flat to the gain-line and is a running threat as well as possessing an excellent all round kicking and passing game, qualities that he has already displayed in the Test arena.

What are Italy’s prospects?

They’ll look first to the integrity of performance and see where that can take them in competitive terms. They’ll be tougher to beat in Rome but France, Ireland and Wales will have to be off colour to slip up; not impossible but improbable. A win would be a massive fillip just to break that sequence and be able to look forward without the baggage of the past.

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