Australia face another daunting task when taking on Italy in the second Test of their November tour in Turin on Saturday.
Australia face another daunting task when they take on Italy in the second Test of their November tour in Turin on Saturday.
The Wallabies got their campaign off to a poor start when they capitulated to a second-half fightback from England at Twickenham, suffering a 20-13 defeat.
Coach Ewen McKenzie is feeling the heat and will have to beat the Azzurri convincingly to appease his critics who lambasted him after that loss to England.
These teams last met in Florence 12 months ago and Australia survived a second-half fightback before securing a 22-19 victory. The Wallabies were cruising at 22-6 at half-time but their hosts took charge of the match after the break and came agonisingly close to securing a deserved draw but a penalty attempt from their fly-half Luciano Orquera in the 79th minute sailed just wide of the posts.
Despite battling in that result, 2012 was a much better year as 2013 has really turned into and annus horribilis for the Wallabies. They have won just three of their eleven Tests in 2013 with two of those victories coming over Rugby Championship newbies Argentina and their only other triumph being a 16-15 win in the second Test of their series against the British and Irish Lions.
That is Australia's worst run of results since the game turned professional in 1996.
McKenzie knows a victory is imperative if he wants to restore the damaged pride of the 1991 and 1999 World Cup winners. The loss to England means that the former Reds boss has been in charge in six of their eight defeats with Robbie Deans being at the helm in the other two losses, earlier this year against the Lions.
McKenzie admitted that pressure is mounting on him and he knows they face a difficult task against the Azzurri, who are often competitive in their backyard.
“There is pressure every week but at the moment we are in the business of winning the next game,” he said.
“We've never had an easy game here in Italy and even last year they had a chance to tie the game after the final siren. There wouldn't be anyone in the Six Nations who would say coming here and winning is easy.
“They grow an extra leg playing at home and we recognise that going into the match.”
Much will depend on how the Wallabies fare in the forward exchanges as this is a real strength of Italy's game. As usual, the performance of the much-maligned Wallabies front row – Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore and James Slipper – will again come under scrutiny in the scrums.
McKenzie has shown his intent with the selection of regular lock Rob Simmons, as Scott Fardy's replacement, on the blindside flank and if the Wallabies can at least match the Azzurri up front, they will have half the battle won as their back-line should get the better of their hosts.
Much will also depend on the performance of fly-half Quade Cooper. He seemed to be close to his best form in Australia's Bledisloe Cup defeat to New Zealand in Dunedin last month but failed to build on that effort at Twickenham.
Italy proved in this year's Six Nations that they can compete on an equal footing with Europe's leading nations.
Their campaign in the northern hemisphere's leading tournament was a memorable one as they shared third position on the table with Scotland. They claimed memorable wins over more-fancied opposition like France and Ireland and also ran England close before suffering a narrow loss.
Despite the Wallabies' woeful form, Italy boss Jacques Brunel is not underestimating their opponents and expects a tough encounter.
“Australia are one of the top four teams in the world,” he said.
“You can't say it's the best time to be meeting Australia. I'm sure that after last week's defeat, which to me was quite unlucky, they will bring a lot of intensity and rhythm into this match.”
A win for the Azzurri will be an historic one as they have failed to beat the Wallabies in fourteen previous encounters dating back to 1983.
Italy's Australian-born full-back Luke McLean said they want to build on the confidence gained from last season's Six Nations successes.
He expects Australia to be fired up to prove their detractors wrong, however.
“Sometimes it's easier when they come off wins, when they're a little over-confident,” said McLean.
“I think they have their backs to the wall and there's only one way they can go, and that is forward.
“The last couple of games they have played reasonably well. They finished the rugby championships with a great victory over Argentina, and last weekend they were quite unlucky, for whatever reasons, to come away with the win in London.
“I think (criticism of) their performances have been a little bit over-exaggerated.”
Players to watch:
For Italy: Italy's veteran tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni is playing in his 99th Test for the Azzurri and is still their anchor in the scrum. Props generally mature as they get older so it will be fair to say the 32-year-old is in the prime of his career. With scrummaging not being one of the Wallabies' fortÃ©s, his direct opponent James Slipper could be in for a torrid time when he packs down.
For Australia: Wallaby full-back Israel Folau is in his debut season on the Test scene but has already made a phenomenal impact and gained several admirers with his attacking style of play. Folau will present a serious threat to Italy's defence and although his kicking game needs attention there are very little other flaws in his overall game.
Herd-to-head: There's plenty of class in both squads but the clash between the two number eights, who are also their respective teams' captains will be interesting to watch. Italy's Sergio Parisse and Australia's Ben Mowen are two players with contrasting styles but both players play huge roles for their sides. Parisse leads from the front while Mowen is one of the players who goes about his business in a quiet but efficient manner doing plenty of hard graft which allows other players in his side to shine. Despite these differences, Parisse and Mowen's play and decision-making will have a huge impact on this game.
2012: Australia won 22-19 in Florence
2011: Australia won 32-6, Albany (RWC)
2010: Australia won 32-14, Florence
2009: Australia won 34-12, Melbourne
2009: Australia won 31-8, Canberra
2008: Australia won 30-20, Padova
2006: Australia won 25-18 in Rome
2005: Australia won 69-25 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
1988: Australia won 55-6 in Rome
1986: Australia won 39-18 in Brisbane
1983: Australia won 29-7 in Rovigo
Prediction: This clash is so difficult to call!