One step forward, two steps back. That seems to have been the sorry story for Australia ahead of facing the Italians in Florence.
One step forward, two strides back. That has been the sorry story for Australia over the past two years ahead of facing Italy in Florence.
It had looked as though the Wallabies had turned the corner following that victory over New Zealand in Hong Kong, and many were expecting them to push on in an unbeaten tour. But unfortunately, that hasn't been the case as the wheels have come off this past week in England and Ireland.
First it was Martin Johnson's outfit who – contrary to all the pre-game hype about the scrum – played an expansive brand that out-Australia'd Australia. Then, three days later, the might of Munster's second-string did for the Wallabies' equivalent. As one Irish commentator put it, they were shocking.
And so the axe has fallen. Out of the mix goes Australia's most experienced back Matt Giteau, with midweek captain Berrick Barnes at 12. Benn Robinson and Mark Chisholm are also culled as James Slipper and Rob Simmons come in. Will Genia's bench spot is largely down to injury.
Warranted changes then? I think not regarding Robinson as the mobile prop was his usual busy self around the field, but then again Slipper does deserve a chance to show what he is capable of. The Giteau debate is one that many are divided on though, and it's probably his form and not Barnes' that sees Head Coach Robbie Deans make the change.
“They've all earned their right to be a part of this side,” said the boss.
“Off the back of his efforts off the bench, James has earned his opportunity to start and Rob gets his chance to start having got some more rugby under his belt [during midweek] and he'll benefit from the experience he received off the bench through the Tri-Nations.
“Berrick has really worked hard at his game and deserves his chance to start. He has also made an impact off the bench for us and he gets his chance to start from the beginning, as does Luke [Burgess].
Barnes is not the greatest carrier or line-breaker for that matter so that responsibility falls on Adam Ashley-Cooper, who will become the 35th man to play 50 Tests for Australia. And Deans has nothing but praise for the man who has become so vital to his cause.
“It's outstanding,” he said about the Brumby achieving the landmark.
“To get one Test is a great but to get to 50 is an outstanding achievement in anyone's book.
“The great thing about Adam is that he's played each of those as if they were his first.”
Meanwhile, opposing Head Coach Nick Mallett showed little faith in his starting line-up that fell narrowly to Argentina as he made a total of six changes, the biggest being 20-year-old Edoardo Gori's inclusion at scrum-half.
It will be a very testing debut, particularly as he's not even played a senior match since April. He does not have experience to call upon outside either as Craig Gower is out injured.
Mallett's selection should make for a mouth-watering chance for Quade Cooper – criticised for being 'tackle shy' at HQ – to regain some much-needed confidence ahead of Australia facing France. So will it be back on the front-foot for the Wallabies? It has to be, surely.
Ones to watch:
For Italy: Mentioned already but what a testing comeback this will be for scrum-half Edoardo Gori. At least he has one of the best number eights in the business as a calming presence.
For Australia: It is undeniable that Quade Cooper came back from Europe last year a different player, and it was in fact in Italy where he shone. Upon returning home, he enjoyed an exceptional season in the Super 14 for the Reds and should rediscover that top form.
Head-to-head: Here we go again then with the Australian scrum. James Slipper is the next under the spotlight as he goes up against Martin Castrogiovanni. A strong effort here though and he could start to cement himself a starting spot going into a World Cup year.
2009: Australia won 34-12 in Melbourne
2009: Australia won 31-8 in Canberra
2008: Australia won 30-20 in Padova
2006: Australia won 25-18 in Rome
2005: Australia won 69-21 in Melbourne
2002: Australia won 34-3 in Genova
1996: Australia won 40-18 in Padova
1994: Australia won 20-7 in Melbourne
1994: Australia won 23-20 in Brisbane
Prediction: I'm afraid Italy will be struggling for answers. Australia by 25!
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Paul Derbyshire, 5 Quintin Geldenhuys, 4 Carlo Antonio Del Fava, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Fabio Ongaro, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Lorenzo Cittadini, 18 Santiago Dellape, 19 Robert Barbieri, 20 Pablo Canavosio, 21 Riccardo Bocchino, 22 Andrea Masi.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (c), 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Mark Chisholm, 19 Matt Hodgson, 20 Will Genia, 21 Matt Giteau, 22 Pat McCabe.
Date: Saturday, November 20
Venue: Stadio A Franchi, Florence
Kick-off: 15.00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)
By Adam Kyriacou