With the November Tests now done and dusted for most teams, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next, Italy.
One excellent, one expected and one disappointing result for the Azzurri in November but it is likely they will focus on the positives of beating South Africa for the first time when they assess this month.
That win over the Springboks could well have been a watershed moment for the squad and something they can call upon going into the Six Nations when we will see just how far they have come under Conor O’Shea.
Heading into November on the back of victories over the USA and Canada towards the end of June, O’Shea’s outfit knew it was going to be a tough ask to make it three on the bounce against New Zealand. So it proved as a wounded All Blacks side cut loose in Rome, winning 68-10.
Maybe Italy were targeting the Springboks, maybe not, but that was a poor opening performance that led many to believe that a triumph over South Africa was not on the cards.
Yes, a narrow defeat might have been expected after the Boks’ dismal form during the Rugby Championship and against England at Twickenham, but to win was a wonderful achievement. The joy at full-time was something no Italian will ever forget.
Ornel Gega, Andries van Schalkwyk and Giorgio Bronzini all stood out as relative newcomers in the side while the influence of captain and number eight Sergio Parisse never wanes. Simone Favaro and Marco Fuser also deserve praise for their performances against the Springboks.
But boy did the Azzurri fall back to earth with a thump seven days later in a fixture they should have won. Facing Tonga in Padova without the suspended Parisse, a late penalty from Tane Takulua saw the islanders claim a 19-17 victory to leave O’Shea’s men deflated at the end.
As we say, that was November’s mixed bag for Italy but with O’Shea still in the infancy of his tenure and the scalp of South Africa having been claimed, there’s surely more positives than negatives moving forward.
That will be the message from the boss as they look to hit the ground running against Wales and then Ireland in two home matches to start their Six Nations next February. We’ll then see their progress.
Certainly, the only way is up against their northern hemisphere rivals after 2016’s zero from five record that saw them pick up the wooden spoon, but with England, Ireland, Scotland and France looking strong in November and Wales winning three on the spin, one scalp looks to be a big ask.