State of the Nation: Italy

Date published: July 2 2016

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With the June internationals now done and dusted, we take a look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Italy.

Conor O'Shea's reign is up and running and even though the road ahead for Italy is a long one, it feels as though the right man for the job has been appointed.

O'Shea's time in charge however won't just be about breathing life back into the national side, but overhauling the entire Italian structure to ensure those players of the future are given the best possible coaching and platform to succeed.

That role truly belongs to Stephen Aboud, arriving in Italy after close to 25 years working within the IRFU developing youth systems and now tasked with turning Italy into a force from age-group level upwards by restructuring the academies.

Back to O'Shea – he wasted no time in letting his players know they weren't up to standard when before the June Tests even began he claimed that the fitness of some of his players, but not all, wasn't "enough to play at the highest level and they will cost the group".

Opting to rest Sergio Parisse was a shrewd move and in the absence of Italy's talisman the Azzurri fell to a narrow 30-24 defeat to Argentina, before going on to win against the USA and Canada.

Five new caps have been handed out and O'Shea's comments at the end of the month hinted at a small level of satisfaction with what he'd seen, even if Italy are only just taking their first steps up the mountain.

Still, Italy should take encouragement from the fact that they won back-to-back Test matches for the first time since November 2012 on this tour.

How long that enthusiasm keeps going remains to be seen but what was heartening to see was Italy dominating the set-piece as expected through their scrum, lineout and driving maul.

Ornel Gega's three tries in two games can't be ignored and the hooker was a real bright spot of the three Tests, as was flanker Simone Favaro, along with Edoardo Gori who continues to make strides from a leadership perspective.

O'Shea will be keen to settle on a fly-half quickly and Carlo Canna holds the early edge – having landed key penalties and a drop goal against the USA and Canada – over Tommaso Allan, although that may change with the latter's move to Treviso in a bid for first-team rugby.

Putting the last month to one side, Italy's progress will be truly measured in November when they take on New Zealand in Rome, South Africa in Florence and Tonga in Padua in three Tests.

That looks a tough schedule on paper for a side trying to find a new identity, but then Italy currently are very much a long-term project rather than one looking for short-term success, giving O'Shea all the time he needs to mould this group of players into his vision.

Gonzalo Garcia and Michele Campagnaro were arguably Italy's two best players back in the Six Nations, with Campagnaro continuing to impress this month, so reuniting that pairing combined with Gori and Canna continuing at half-back behind that impressive tight five and return of Parisse will all mean Italy are well in a position to compete.

In the long-term merely competing isn't enough, but for now O'Shea will take it. As he said this week: "I know we have the talent, but there is a lot of hard work to be done."

Read the rest of our State of the Nation pieces following the June Tests right here.

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