Shôn Douglas previews the 2020 Guinness Six Nations Championship for Sport Talk. We Love Sport have teamed up with tournament sponsors Guinness to bring you complimentary pints during the championship – to redeem simply download the We Love Sport app.
Last season was another to forget for the Italians, coming rock bottom and with five defeats out of five and a -88 points difference – not much changed for them going into the Rugby World Cup and coach Conor O’Shea stepped down after the tournament.
The decision to only recruit on an interim basis does little to inspire confidence – but the former Treviso coach, Franco Smith, is at least familiar with the goings on behind the scenes in Italian Rugby.
There have been plenty of vocal critics of the Six Nations who argue that the lack the relegation means Tier 2 nations are being held back while Italy continue to be whipping boys and with the Azzurri’s last win in the tournament coming in 2015 against Scotland, they might have a point.
Emerging home grown talent on the way
Since Italy joined the competition on 2000, progress has been made off-field improvements and development of infrastructure in Italy has taken time, but it is starting to show some end product. Homegrown talents are emerging and both Zebre and Benetton have given good accounts for themselves in the PRO14 this year, Benetton in particular beating Edinburgh back in November…but is it enough?
There are difficult times ahead and the old guard are getting…well…old…and the gap in talent and experience may count against them.
This year marks the final tournament for talismanic number eight Sergio Parisse who, having been denied his final hurrah for the Azzurri at the 2019 Rugby World Cup by Typhoon Hagibis, will make his final bow in Rome when Italy take on either Scotland or England. His decision not to play in every match may raise some eyebrows, but if anyone deserves a send off to recognise their contribution to the sport – it’s Parisse.
In his place, high hopes are placed on uncapped backrow Giovanni Licata who has been flying in the Pro 14 for Zebre, leading the stats in carries and off-loads and could forge an excellent partnership with Gloucester’s human wrecking ball Jake Polledri.
No Michele Campagnaro due to injury will stifle an already impotent back line, so it will be a long hard slog for new captain Federico Zani (probably best known for his part in the awful tip tackle against South Africa with fellow front rower Andrea Lovotti) who has the unenviable task of following Parisse’s footsteps.
This year marks the 21st year of the Six Nations and Italy have more wooden spoons than Lakeland, so it is hard to see anything other than yet another year propping up the table come the end of March. That being said, the Italians are a passionate lot and could bloody a few noses before the tournament draws to a close…as well as arguably the best anthem of the lot!
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