Six Nations preview: Italy set for another Wooden Spoon finish
We kick off our set of previews ahead of the 2023 Six Nations by examining the prospects of last year’s Wooden Spoon finishers, Kieran Crowley’s Italy.
The serial whipping boys of the Championship hit back last year by claiming their first victory in the Six Nations in 36 attempts, defeating Wales 22-21 on Super Saturday, and will be out to avoid another seven-year wait for their next win.
Italy head into the Six Nations off the back of a mixed bag of results in July and November last year. Crowley’s charges fell to their first-ever defeat to Georgia but bounced back to claim a massive 49-17 triumph over Samoa.
The Azzurri made one final bit of history as they secured their maiden Test win over Australia, defeating Dave Rennie’s side 28-27, but their year closed with a 63-21 humbling from South Africa.
Inspirational captain Michele Lamaro skippers the side once again this Six Nations and despite key playmaker Paolo Garbisi being absent for the opening rounds through injury, Crowley certainly has a powerful enough squad to be competitive this term.
As mentioned, the Azzurri had become the whipping boys of the Six Nations in the past few years of the competition, and 2022 looked no different when France cruised to a 37-10 victory in the opening game in Paris.
The margin of defeat increased in Round Two as England ran in five tries to thrash the Azzurri 33-0 as Crowley’s side leaked 10 tries in just two games.
Gianmarco Lucchesi’s injury and Epalahame Faiva’s sending-off saw them play over an hour of their Test against Ireland with 13 men. Andy Farrell’s side were ruthless as they picked apart the Italian defence, dotting down nine times in the 57-6 victory and handing Italy their 100th loss in the Six Nations since 2000.
The fallow week came at a perfect time for the Italians to reset, and we saw a vastly improved performance against Scotland, albeit in defeat. Scotland did manage to score five tries, but the Azzurri charged over for three of their own as the match ended 33-22 in the Scots’ favour.
And after 36 Six Nations matches, Italy finally ended the drought by defeating Wales 22-21 with Ange Capuozzo’s mazy run through the Welsh defence putting Edoardo Padovani through to score a try that will live long in all rugby fans’ memories.
Fair to say the Italians enjoyed yesterday 🇮🇹#GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/x2lGpSA5gP
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 20, 2022
The Azzurri have the arduous task of hosting France in the opening game of the Six Nations. As mentioned earlier, they will front up against the current holders and last year’s Grand Slam winners without the guidance of Garbisi.
It would take an almighty effort for Italy to upset Fabien Galthie’s Championship-winning side, who went unbeaten in all Tests last year.
If the Italians are to win another match this Six Nations, they will possibly target the home game against Wales and the away trip to Murrayfield at the back end of the competition.
Although overturning the likes of France and Ireland seems unlikely, the last time Italy did claim two wins in a single Six Nations was back in 2015 when they defeated the French (22-18) and Irish (22-15) at home.
The aforementioned Paolo Garbisi is an enormous blow to the side for the opening two rounds but is expected to return for the home Test against Ireland in Round Three. The fly-half slotted the winning points against Wales last year, but his influence on the side extends further than his excellence from the tee. He displays tactical nous and game management far beyond his years.
With Garbisi sidelined, Tommy Allan will likely take over the reins at pivot, and the experienced playmaker is more than capable of driving the team, as he showed against Australia last November when he filled the number 10 jersey.
Michele Lamaro is a vital cog in the pack, both from a performance and leadership point of view, while the return of Jake Polledri to the set-up is a tremendous boost to their back-row stocks. The Gloucester loose forward has endured a horrendous run of injuries, but if he can get back to his previous best in the Azzurri blue, he will quickly re-establish himself as a regular starter.
🙌 Great to see Jake Polledri back in the Italy squad.
Hopefully we'll be seeing more of this in the #GuinnessSixNations. 💪pic.twitter.com/ne5TvgqIV2
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) January 11, 2023
Livewire full-back Ange Capuozzo showed just how much of a threat he was last year, scoring two tries in his first two appearances in the Six Nations. He backed that up with a brace in the historic win over Australia. The 2022 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year will be a go-to source for tries and attacking intent throughout the competition and is bound to produce magical moments.
Players to watch
We have spoken at length about Capuozzo, but the exciting outside back is not one of our players to watch, as it will be a challenge in itself to avert your eyes from the speedster.
But when you are able to shift your attention away from the Azzurri pocket rocket, there are some supremely talented players throughout Crowley’s squad worth keeping an eye on. Forgotten rising star Matteo Minozzi returns to the Italian squad after his battles with injuries and a self-inflicted break from Test rugby to get his career back on track. An entertaining full-back, he could provide a spark from the bench for Italy or line up on the wing if needed. Him linking up with Capuozzo is nightmarish for opposition defenders.
🇮🇹 More of this please, Matteo Minozzi. #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/GCMpV26gWM
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) February 12, 2020
Throw Monty Ioane, Pierre Bruno and Tommaso Menoncello in the mix and Crowley is spoilt for choice out wide.
In the pack, the Italians double the Cannone threat, with Niccolo in the second-row and Lorenzo at number eight. The brothers flexed their Test capabilities throughout last year and are a threat in all facets of the game but particularly with ball in hand.
Italy will fancy their chances of avoiding the Wooden Spoon this year, but the odds are stacked against them with the two tournament favourites visiting the Stadio Olimpico.
Wales will undoubtedly be better this year under the guidance of Warren Gatland, as should England under Steve Borthwick, making Scotland the most likely target game for the Italians.
A single victory this year would be a positive for the Azzurri and give them plenty of confidence ahead of the Rugby World Cup, but in the end, another Wooden Spoon finish is expected. Sixth place.
Sunday, February 5 v France (Stadio Olimpico)
Sunday, February 12 v England (Twickenham)
Saturday, February 25 v Ireland (Stadio Olimpico)
Saturday, March 11 v Wales (Stadio Olimpico)
Saturday, March 18 v Scotland (Murrayfield)
READ MORE: Five key games in this year’s Six Nations Championship