It has been quite the turnaround for Italian rugby in recent years, with them going from being a team who were struggling on the international stage to a side who can compete and win matches, and against some of the sport’s biggest names.

Their win in Cardiff on the final day of the 2022 Six Nations is one that will never be forgotten, with the outpouring of emotion after Paolo Garbisi had successfully converted Edoardo Padovani’s try etched in the memory of every fan who was either in the Principality Stadium that afternoon or who was watching the action unfold at home.

gli Azzurri have been drawn in a tough Rugby World Cup pool this year, with them coming up against hosts France as well as Namibia, Uruguay and New Zealand, and initial thoughts will turn towards the hosts and the All Blacks as the favourites to progress to the knockout stages.

However, given how Italy beat Wales, got the better of Australia in last year’s Autumn internationals and took Japan apart in their most recent outing, they will go into the tournament knowing that anything is possible if they play well.

Head Coach

Ever since Kieran Crowley took over as Italy’s head coach, he has been slowly making adjustments and improvements to the way that his team have played, with the primary focus being on executing basics well, such as passing and positioning, and then adding in more complex ideas and new layers to their play to help them not just win but win well. It has been an approach that has paid dividends during his time in charge, with many starting to take notice of Italy as a team capable of winning rugby matches once again in the last year or so.

It has already been announced that the New Zealander will vacate his post at the end of the World Cup, regardless of what happens, which has attracted some criticism both from inside and outside of the country. However, for that reason, gli Azzurri will no doubt want to have a positive showing in France in order to show their appreciation for a man who has transformed Italian rugby and got the players believing in their abilities once again.

Attacking play

Italy have some really good ideas when it comes to how they want to play in possession, and there have been numerous occasions when they have demonstrated clever passing at a good speed which has allowed them to create plenty of opportunities around the field.

However, what the 2023 Six Nations demonstrated was that, despite their desire to build on what they had achieved last year, there was still a lack of quality in some aspects that needed to be addressed. In short, it was a case of running before they could walk in areas, with them trying to add flair to their game but leaving themselves too open and inviting pressure and counterattacks from their opponents, which often led to easy points being conceded.

However, when looking at their squad, there is clearly a lot of quality in their ranks and they do have the ability to trouble opponents, so ensuring that they get the fundamentals of their play right will be vital if they want to make an impact in France later this year.

Defensive play

As mentioned, their lack of accuracy has at times allowed opponents to regain possession in dangerous areas, and, for all of their attacking improvements, they are not quite there defensively at the moment.

However, given that they have some strong tacklers and players who like to get over the ball and win turnovers, there is little doubt that, when things do eventually click for them in this aspect of their games, they will be a team that defends on the front foot, because there always seems to be a desire for them to face the challenge head on and not be too passive.

Defending from the front is important in rugby if a team is serious about winning, and the fact that this mentality is now ingrained in Italy’s game and has been bought into by all of the players shows once again just how far they have come in recent years.

Key players

Looking at the wider Italian squad selections, it is clear that Crowley has sought a blend of experience and youth in his final tournament at the Italian helm, with him no doubt wanting to leave strong foundations for his successor to build on. The likes of hooker Giacomo Nicotera, loosehead Danilo Fischetti, captain and flanker Michele Lamaro and full-back Ange Capuozzo have all become key players of the Italian squad during Crowley’s time in charge, either through being given their first caps or through having their games signficantly improved by his ideas.

However, the key name to look out for during the tournament is Capuozzo, because he really is a livewire on the field and can take a game by the scruff of the neck when his team are up against it. If Italy can get him into the game as much as possible and protect him when he does have the ball, then they will always pose a threat, and his sharp changes of direction, ability to move the ball from hand to hand with ease and to make accurate kicks into unoccupied territory will continually prevent rips and permanently excite fans.

Tournament prediction

Ultimately, Italy are not expected to make it through to the knockout stages, with France and New Zealand the heavy favourites to advance from this pool, and that should take some of the pressure off gli Azzurri and allow them to focus on playing the way that they like to and racking up as many wins as possible.

For that reason, there is a lot of optimism around Italy that their team could leave the World Cup with pride and hope for the future, as well as significant confidence that they can challenge on a stage like this, and a third placed finish in the pool does seem very likely and would be a positive result.