State of the Nation: Italy show promising signs but need time to grow

Dylan Coetzee
Italy celebrate after scoring against Samoa in the Autumn Nations Series.

Now that the 2022 international season has been wrapped up, we delve into the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Italy.

The Azzurri have had a season filled with growth in 2022, including breakthrough wins against Wales, in Cardiff for the first time, and their first victory over the Wallabies.

The influence of head coach Kieran Crowley continues to show on this young and talented squad, who surely have a world of growth ahead of them.

Italy played some exciting rugby in 2022 and, despite only winning three from eight Tests, they are certainly a team on the rise and one for their fans can get excited about.

Milestone wins

Earlier this year, the rugby world filled with speculation that the Springboks were being considered to replace the Azzurri in the Six Nations fold, placing the Italian team under a huge threat as growth would be much harder to come by without a spot in the championship.

However, Crowley’s men responded in the only way a team can, by playing well. Whilst the four defeats in the Six Nations were by significant margins, three over 15 points, the scorelines do not show the periods of the game where Italy held big teams like France before being blown away later.

There were promising signs throughout, but the more complete performance waited until the last round, where Ange Capuozzo first showed his hand on the Test scene, orchestrating the winning try scored by Edoardo Padovani in the dying seconds of the game. This was just a glimpse of what was to come.

In the Autumn Nations Series, the Italians downed Samoa in the first round in a spectacular 49-17 win, including some stunning tries. The result and the quality of the performance signalled their intent.

The next week, a much changed Wallabies side faced the music against the Azzurri, who played with passion and commitment to beat the southern hemisphere giant for the first time. What a moment it was in so many ways.

The win gives the squad belief in Crowley’s systems and belief in themselves that they can beat some of the top sides in the world. Sure Italy were blown away by the Springboks a week later, but the significance of the Wallabies’ win remains the key takeaway from the autumn.

Coaching influence

Crowley and his coaching team have worked wonders, as seen in the two autumn wins. The Italian side played some beautifully structured rugby, particularly on attack, where each player had a clear understanding of their role in each phase, and as a result, some wonderful tries were scored.

It was not just attack as the team was committed on defence and clever in managing the game. In a team sport such as rugby, where each position has different roles and boxes to tick, there is nothing better than seeing a team in sync and, for a large part of the two opening autumn games, this was on show.

Given the improvement from the side throughout the year and Crowley’s tenure since his arrival last year, one can expect Italy to continue growing from strength to strength.

One gets the sense that all the Azzurri need is time.

Squad

The coach, of course, is blessed with a young and rapidly developing squad headlined by Capuozzo, who is the name on everyone’s lips.

It is easy to see why, as the young full-back always looks dangerous on the ball and scored a brace of tries in the historic win against Australia. The Toulouse-star’s performances were rewarded as Capuozzo was deservedly named World Rugby’s breakthrough player of the year.

However, the talent extends so much further. Fly-half Paolo Garbisi continues to grow in stature and is a fantastic fly-half who had world champion Handre Pollard, on the pine during his time in Montpellier.

The playmaker racked up a ridiculous four try assists against Samoa, and at the ripe age of 22, Garbisi is a name to get used to.

The list continues with Lorenzo Cannone, who made his debut in the autumn and looked as if he had always been playing Test rugby. Scrum-half Stephen Varney has found good form in the starting XV. Skipper Michele Lamaro is an absolute engine. Ignacio Brex was splitting defensive lines with ease from the midfield. Simone Ferrari scrummed the life out of opposition teams at times, and the likes of Monty Ioane are scoring for free.

There are even more talented names to consider. This squad is the real deal and will only continue to improve with experience and with belief.

Looking ahead to the World Cup

The Azzurri have a challenging pool headlined by the All Blacks and France, making life difficult for Crowley and his men. However, this year Italy have been fearless at times and whilst their chances of getting to the knockout stages are slim, one would not completely rule out an upset.

This team needs time and experience. The systems and growth pathway Italy are currently on is the right one. The 2023 Six Nations will be a massive experience boost for the young side and hopefully give them momentum going into France later in the year.

Italy need to learn how to play their game over longer periods. Find a way to achieve parity up front and let the superstars out the back work their magic.

It certainly feels that Crowley is cooking up one of the best Italian teams that rugby has seen.

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