2018 has not been a great year for Italy in terms of results, but Saturday’s clash with Georgia in Florence presents them with an opportunity to get back to winning ways.
Conor O’Shea’s men were trounced 54-7 by Ireland in their first November Test, but this week they will be coming up against a side which has suffered resounding defeats to Fiji and Japan in their last two matches.
Interestingly, Georgia still sit 13th in the World Rugby rankings, one place above their hosts. However, the Azzurri will be confident of their chances of reversing that.
O’Shea has selected a strong line-up for this encounter, ringing the changes after last weekend’s defeat. Luca Sperandio, Mattia Bellini, Michele Campagnaro, Tito Tebaldi and Abraham Steyn are the only players to keep their places in the starting XV.
“We know the importance of the match well,” O’Shea said. “The team has recovered well from the trip to the US and we are ready to face Georgia. It will be a very physical match. We want to show our maximum level for 80 minutes.”
Georgia’s starting XV boasts a total of 469 caps, with Merab Sharikadze captaining the side from outside centre.
The only three starting backline players left from the 28-0 defeat to Japan are Vasil Lobzhanidze, Lasha Khmaladze and Soso Matiashvili. From the forward pack, only Giorgi Tsutskiridze, Otar Giorgadze and Jaba Bregvadze remain.
This match will carry added significance for Milton Haig’s side, as the Kiwi coach has made no secret of his desire to lead the country into the Six Nations.
Players to watch:
For Italy: Michele Campagnaro has been the main headline-maker for Italy of late, having been released from his contract by Exeter Chiefs before captaining the Azzurri against Ireland. He put in a mixed performance in that game, scoring an intercept try, but also giving one away.
For Georgia: At the age of just 22, Brive’s Vasil Lobzhanidze already has 36 caps to his name for Georgia. There are few, if any, more fitting representatives of a young generation which is playing its part in the sport’s rapid growth in the country.
Head-to-head: Georgia’s set-piece has traditionally been a key asset for them. Their experienced hooker, Jaba Bregvadze, typifies what their forwards are all about, but he will face a fierce opponent come Saturday in Italy skipper Leonardo Ghiraldini.
2003: Italy won 31-22 in Asti
2000: Italy XV won 51-7 in Livorno
Prediction: Georgia cannot completely be written off, having beaten Tonga earlier this year, but Italy will be hungry to put a victory on the board and should have enough quality to do just that. Italy to win by 10 points.
Italy: 15 Luca Sperandio, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Abraham Jurgens Steyn, 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (c), 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traorè, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Johan Meyer, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Luca Morisi
Georgia: 15 Soso Matiashvili, 14 Giorgi Koshadze, 13 Merab Sharikadze (c), 12 Tamaz Mtchedlidze, 11 Zurab Dzneladze, 10 Lasha Khmaladze, 9 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 8 Beka Gorgadze, 7 Giorgi Tsutskiridze, 6 Otar Giorgadze, 5 Lasha Lomidze, 4 Nodar Tcheishvili, 3 Dudu Kubriashvili, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili
Replacements: 16 Shalva Mamukashvili, 17 Zurab Zhvania, 18 Levan Chilachava, 19 Shalva Sutiashvili, 20 Beka Bitsadze, 21 Gela Aprasidze, 22 Lasha Malaghuradze, 23 Giorgi Kveseladze
Date: Saturday, November 10
Venue: Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)