CAPTAIN: Luca Bigi
HEAD COACH: Franco Smith
With Braam Steyn and Jake Polledri both missing from the back row, more will be needed from Sebastien Negri, who is usually one to drive his team forward, and is a player Italy can usually rely on, particularly at breakdowns and when tackling opponents. He will need help from South African-born back row forward Johan Meyer, who will also need to be at the top of his game if Italy want to ask questions of opposing defenders. The centre of the pitch features two of the most exciting up-and-coming Italian players, in Gloucester’s 19-year-old scrum-half Stephen Varney and Benetton’s 20-year-old fly-half Paolo Garbisi, both of whom have shown at times that they can find spaces and be the creative central players that those positions should be. Garbisi is more likely to play than Varney, but we hope to see them both at some point.
Italy rely on the scrums for the majority of their attacking play, looking to dominate that area as a key part of their tactics. Captain and hooker Luca Bigi leads from the front, in every sense of that phrase, and any good scrums usually involve him pushing hard for his team. We know that Italy are not a good team in terms of consistency and performance levels, so it’s the little moments that matter for them, and Bigi is often the source of those good moments. He is going to be a really important player for the Azzurri in this year’s tournament.
Italy have plenty of speedy players among their options at the back, but winger Mattia Bellini has consistently been one of their biggest threats. The Zebre player loves to have the ball, and teams always need to watch him whenever he is involved in the play. He has the ability to find gaps in defences, and is always a good player for neutrals to watch. With other key attacking threats like Wasps full-back Matteo Minozzi, who has ruled himself out with mental fatigue, and winger Edoardo Padovani missing out, Bellini will need to be on top form if Italy are to pose a threat at any stage in this year’s tournament.
It’s safe to say that Italy are on a road of slow improvement, and we are seeing small positive changes every year, which is good to see. Last year, momentum didn’t go for them in their performances, but they were still a difficult team to play at points. Their main problem, not just last year, but in recent years as well, is that they give everything in the first half, looking really threatening, but then come out after half time and have nothing more to offer, and that is when their opponents score plenty of tries and win by a large margin. This is why they then don’t get any wins on the board, despite always looking like they are up for the game. The other thing we always see from them is moments of individual quality, and good individual performances, but they don’t tend to work together as a team, with mistakes being made with passes and runs, and that also leads to their general lack of momentum.
It seems like we are saying the same thing over and over again, but the only thing we can predict for Italy in this year’s Six Nations is that they will play with everything they have, but ultimately come away with nothing to show for that effort. With them missing several of their key players, as already mentioned in this analysis, it is difficult to predict anything else, but we can say that Italy will have some good moments at times. If they can get their quicker, more nimble players on the ball, like wingers Mattia Bellini, Luca Sperandio and centre Marco Zanon, then they will ask some big questions of opposing defenders at times, which will be a positive for them in their continued development as a squad.