We preview each of the team’s prospects ahead of the upcoming Six Nations Championship. Next up, Italy.
The Azzurri will, once again, head into the Six Nations as overwhelming underdogs after delivering numerous below-par performances over the past 12 months. There will be plenty of motivation to do well as this will be coach Jacques Brunel’s final Six Nations campaign before stepping aside after the Rugby World Cup later this year.
Last Year: 2014 was a year to forget for the Azzurri as they failed to live up to the expectations created in 2013, when they finished fourth thanks to two victories.
Italy lost all five their matches in 2014 with the big defeats suffered against France, Ireland and England particularly humiliating. Italy delivered a good account of themselves in their opening match against Wales, before losing 23-15. Despite the defeat, Azzurri supporters will remember that match for the performance of young centre Michele Campagnaro, who announced himself on the Test scene by scoring two tries. In their next match, they lost 30-10 away to France before a last-minute Duncan Weir drop goal inflicted a 21-20 defeat on them at their Stadio Olimpico headquarters in Round Three. That result knocked the wind out of their sails and they were cannon fodder away to Ireland (7-46) and at home against England (11-52) in their two final fixtures.
This year: There will be plenty of pressure on Brunel and his charges, especially after their poor showing in last year’s tournament. They must win at least one of their home matches and although their opening fixture against Ireland will be difficult, it’s not an impossible task as they beat the men from the Emerald Isle in Italy in 2013. They then have tricky away assignments against England and Scotland. While England are always difficult to beat at Twickenham, Brunel will fancy his team’s chances at Murrayfield, although the Scots have shown great improvement under their new head coach Vern Cotter. If the Azzurri have a win under their belt after the third round, they will be brimming with confidence ahead of their final matches at home against France and Wales. However, three straight losses could set up a repeat of their winless 2014 campaign.
Key Players: If Jacques Brunel’s troops want to be competitive, they will need their experienced players to stay fit and be at their best for the duration of the tournament. Experienced number eight and skipper Sergio Parisse and fellow veteran, prop, Martin Castrogiovanni are amongst the best players in their respective positions and will lead by example but it’s crucial that they get the necessary support from other senior forwards like Marco Bortolami, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Quintin Geldenhuys and Alessandro Zanni. While their pack should hold their own against all their opponents, the performances of their backs will be crucial and the efforts of exciting midfielder Michele Campagnaro and experienced full-back Luke McLean will be expected to provided much-needed direction on attack.
Players to watch: Inspirational back-row Sergio Parisse will, once again, be expected lead the charge. The Stade Fran