Six Nations: The lowdown on Italy

With Brunel on the way out, we shouldn’t expect Italy to break new ground this time around

Coach: Jacques Brunel

Jacques Brunel has given his Italy squad a facelift as he looks to match or better last year's fifth place finish in what will be his final campaign as coach, bringing 10 uncapped players into his 30-man party for the championship. In 2013 Brunel guided Italy to fourth place, above Ireland and France, but this year the Azzurri look by some way the weakest side in the competition and are favourites for the wooden spoon. Italy were uninspiring at the World Cup, their best performance coming in their hugely physical loss to Ireland, but Brunel's faith in new blood - coupled with a home fixture against Scotland - could see his side avoid bottom spot.

Strengths

As ever, it is the big lumps up front who remain Italy's biggest threat. Marshalled by the inspirational Sergio Parisse, the Azzurri always have a chance if they can turn a game into an arm wrestle. Their 16-9 defeat to Ireland at the World Cup was a case in point, as they dragged Joe Schmidt's side into a physical battle they wanted to avoid. The scrum, when firing, is a potent weapon, with grizzled veterans Martin Castrogiovanni and Leonardo Ghiraldini in the frontrow, while uncapped South Africa born Zebre backrow Andries van Schalkwky is a useful addition.

Weaknesses

Unless the forwards really take a grip of the game it is hard to see where Italy are going to get their points from. Playmaker Tommaso Allan has been ruled out of the tournament through injury and despite the return of Kelly Haimona, Italy still lack a trustworthy goalkicker - something which has been a longstanding problem. The Azzurri will also need the set-piece to be firing on all cylinders if they want to avoid the Wooden Spoon, and that is far from a guarantee. There is also the sense that things have gone a bit stale after four years of Brunel's leadership, something alluded to by Parisse recently.

Key Man: Sergio Parisse

Who else? At 32 the great warrior is getting towards the twilight of his career, but he remains just as integral to Italian hopes as he ever has done. Indeed, Italy are the closest thing to a one-man team there is in world rugby - they are simply a different proposition with their talismanic number eight in the saddle. Whether it is his consistently destructive ball carrying, his athleticism in the air or his ability to galvanise those around him, the Stade Francais skipper is still one of the best number eights on the planet.

Last year: Fifth

Avoiding the Wooden Spoon is normally the sign of a good Six Nations for Italy and they managed this last year, finishing above Scotland. In their opening fixture they were put to the sword by Ian Keatley's boot, losing 26-3 to Ireland in Rome. They were then well beaten by England at Twickenham, but there was room for optimism as they scored three tries in their 47-17 defeat. But then came the big one, with a last minute penalty-try giving them a win over Scotland at Murrayfield. A 0-29 loss to France and a 20-61 rout at the hands of Wales followed, but the main goal had already been achieved.

One to watch: Simone Favaro

One area of the Italy team that would bear favourable comparison with other countries is the backrow, where Parisse, the excellent Alessando Zanni and Favaro represent a combative unit. The latter may be the junior partner in age and experience, but not in contribution terms. If Italy hope to do more than try and survive then Favaro's role at the breakdown and his ability to turn over possession or at least slow it down will be very important. He made his debut as a 20-year-old against Australia in 2009 during a summer tour but it's only really in the last couple of seasons - he was injured for most of the 2015 Six Nations - that he's become a regular for Italy, starting nine of 11 matches during that period. He was signed by the Glasgow Warriors during the summer.

Latest Stories