Rugby World Cup Profile: Italy

Date published: September 1 2015

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With the 2015 Rugby World Cup now just days away, we take a closer look at each of the competing nations. Next up…

ITALY

Nickname: Azzurri

World Cup track record:  
Italy have participated in every Rugby World Cup going back to the first tournament in 1987. However they have never progressed out of the pool stages, achieving two wins in 2003, 2007 and 2011. Only once have Italy failed to win a match at the World Cup, back in 1999.

1987: Pool stages
1991: Pool stages
1995: Pool stages
1999: Pool stages
2003: Pool stages
2007: Pool stages
2011: Pool stages

2011 World Cup: 
Italy faced a tricky challenge getting out of Pool C up against Ireland and Australia, and so it proved to be when they were comprehensively defeated 32-6 by the Wallabies in their opening game. Italy bounced back by defeating Russia 53-17 and gained confidence with a 62-12 win over Russia five days later. However the Azzurri were also comfortably beaten by Ireland in their final game to end any hopes of making the knockout stages. 

World Cup Stats: P24, W9, D0, L15

– Most RWC appearances: Alessandro Troncon (14)
– Most appearances: Sergio Parisse (112)
– Top RWC points scorer: Diego Dominguez (98)
– Top points scorer: Diego Dominguez (983)
– Top RWC try scorers: Marcello Cuttitta (5)
– Top try scorer: Marcello Cuttitta (25)

Form: An underwhelming Six Nations was saved by a last-gasp success away to Scotland, which also helped Italy avoid the wooden spoon. Struggles off the pitch have affected the side, and their form has dipped over the last couple of years as a result. Beyond the win against Scotland, Italy were second-best in all their games in the tournament, finishing with two heavy home defeats to France and Wales. Their performances in the World Cup warm-ups don’t inspire confidence, following up a narrow home defeat to Scotland with a thumping loss away to the same opposition.

Coach: Jacques Brunel took over as Italy head coach in 2011 from Nick Mallett after an extensive career coaching in France. Brunel worked with Auch, Colomiers and Pau before becoming France assistant coach in 2001 when he worked alongside Bernard Laporte. Brunel acted as forwards coach for France over six years through to the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Brunel left the French national side following their semi-final exit to England and joined Top 14 club Perpignan. Under his leadership USAP reached back-to-back Top 14 Finals, winning in 2009, their first title in 50 years, before losing to Clermont the following year.

His success with the Catalan club led to Italy considering him as a candidate to take over. Brunel pledged to try and change Italy’s style of play from traditional forward power to an all-round attack using young talented backs, with his hopes beginning to bear fruit by the 2015 Six Nations.

Captain: One of the most respected players in the global game, Sergio Parisse is regarded as one of the finest number eights to have played the game in the professional era. Parisse’s parents are both Italian but he was born in La Plata in Argentina. He moved to Italy in to play for Treviso in the early 2000s, spending four years with the Italian club before moving to Stade Français in 2005. Parisse has been with the French giants in Paris for the last decade, winning two Top 14 titles during that time in 2007 and 2015. His debut for Italy came when Parisse was just 18 in 2002, with Parisse playing in the 2003 Rugby World Cup the following year in Australia. Parisse featured in the tournament again in 2007 and won his 50th cap in 2008 against England at the age of just 24. He captained Italy during the 2011 World Cup and has remained in the role ever since winning acclaim for his performances in a side that hasn’t always played on his level. Parisse’s athleticism combined with his passing skills make him an entertaining player to watch whether for club and country. Aged 31 and about to enter his fourth Rugby World Cup, Parisse appears to be at the peak of his powers.
 
Key players: There’s little doubt that Parisse will be the star man for Italy in the tournament, but there are plenty of experienced heads around him to help Italy in tough situations. Martin Castrogiovanni is one of them, with one the game’s finest props now in his latter years but still packing a considerable punch in the scrum. Rising star Joshua Furno is a key figure for Italy in the lineout and he will need to combine well with the experienced hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, who currently plays for Leicester Tigers in England. Fly-half has been a problematic position for the Azzurri ever since the retirement of Diego Dominguez and that situation isn’t helped by Kelly Haimona’s long-term injury which has ruled him out of the tournament, putting the pressure on Tommaso Allan to steer the ship well in England. He has plenty of exciting backs at his disposal however in the shape of Luca Morisi, Giovanbattista Venditti and the experienced Andrea Masi.

Profile: Adapting to a more expansive style has certainly been a work in progress for Italy and their coach Jacques Brunel, but the shift is a welcome one not just for the players but also supporters. Italy will always be a threat through their scrum and rolling maul as they have been throughout the years, with Parisse at the heart of all their good work. Now though there are promising talents in the backline who have scored fine tries, particularly those by Luca Morisi during the 2015 Six Nations.

The only Six Nations side that Italy are yet to defeat are England although they have perhaps not progressed as much since their introduction into the Six Nations in 2000 as people would have hoped, never finishing higher than fourth. However they more than earned their right to feature in the tournament down to wins over Ireland and France in 1997 and Scotland in 1998, proving they deserved to play in the top competition. That being said, teams have often struggled travelling to face Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome because of the atmosphere generated by the loyal Italian supporters.

By bidding to host the 2023 World Cup and investing in young talents there is a clear plan for the future currently in Italian rugby. Young players such as Edoardo Gori, Tommaso Allan and Marco Fuser are viewed as the next in line to follow the greats of Italian rugby like Parisse, Alessandro Troncon, Dominguez and Carlo Checchinato, which is no simple task. Is Brunel the man to take Italy to their best ever finish at a World Cup? To even cause an upset against France or Ireland? Time will tell.

Prospects in 2015: Italy would appear to be a safe bet to defeat Romania and Canada in the group stages, but they will need to surprise one of France or Ireland in order to make the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. The potential is there, but given their current form, a defeat to one of the minnows seems just as possible.

Fixtures:

19 Sep – 20:00 v France, Twickenham Stadium (London)
26 Sep – 14:30 v Canada, Leeds
4 Oct – 16:45 v Ireland, Olympic Stadium (London)
11 Oct – 14:30 v Romania, Exeter

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