The French have arrived at the Stadio Olimpico
Team news in full
Italy: 15. Ange Capuozzo, 14. Pierre Bruno, 13. Juan Ignacio Brex, 12. Luca Morisi, 11. Tommaso Menoncello, 10. Tommaso Allan, 9. Stephen Varney; 1. Danilo Fischetti, 2. Giacomo Nicotera, 3. Simone Ferrari, 4. Niccolo Cannone, 5. Federico Ruzza, 6. Sebastian Negri, 7. Michele Lamaro, 8. Lorenzo Cannone
Substitutes: 16. Luca Bigi, 17. Federico Zani, 18. Pietro Ceccarelli, 19. Edoardo Iachizzi, 20. Giovanni Pettinelli, 21. Manuel Zuliani, 22. Alessandro Fusco, 23. Edoardo Padovani
France: 15. Thomas Ramos, 14. Damian Penaud, 13. Gaël Fickou, 12. Yoram Moefana, 11. Ethan Dumortier, 10. Romain Ntamack, 9. Antoine Dupont; 1. Cyril Baille, 2. Julien Marchand, 3. Uini Atonio, 4. Thibaud Flament, 5. Paul Willemse, 6. Anthony Jelonch, 7. Charles Ollivon, 8. Gregory Alldritt
Substitutes: 16. Gaetan Barlot, 17. Reda Wardi, 18. Sipili Falatea, 19. Romain Taofifenua, 20. Thomas Lavault, 21. Sekou Macalou, 22. Nolann Le Garrec, 23. Matthieu Jalibert
Referee: Matthew Carley
Why Italy is finally exciting
by charlie morgan
Michele Lamaro’s mouth curved into a spontaneous smile when Ange Capuozzo’s name was mentioned. The latter, one of rugby union’s most exciting talents, has that effect on people.
“With him, anything can happen at any moment of the game,” Lamaro explained. “It is something special for us. He knows when to speed up. Feel the moment”.
Kieran Crowley, Italy’s head coach, has warned that Capuozzo must deal with season two syndrome in 2023. His sliding full-back, an instinctive will-o’-the-wisp, “burst onto the scene” and has become “one of the superstars” Crowley suggested that a “different challenge” awaits him now that Capuozzo is a known entity.
As a collective, Italy want to show that a stunning win over Wales, who snapped a 36-match losing streak in the Six Nations, can be a launching pad rather than a reprieve. Their overall tournament record stands at 13 wins from 115 games, with an aggregate point difference south of -2,000.
Georgia ousted the Azzurri in July, adding weight to Lelos’ enthusiasm for Six Nations expansion. Italy is currently ranked 12th in the world, indicating that another wooden spoon, which would be the eighth in a row, is on the cards.
But that afternoon in Cardiff last March, illuminated by Capuozzo’s labyrinthine run to prepare for Edoardo Padovani’s decisive essay, produced a ray of light. Then came a 49-17 thrashing of Samoa in November before Australia were beaten 28-27. The following week Capuozzo bested the Springboks in a memorable solo try. South Africa rallied and eventually defeated Crowley’s men 63-21. However, the cause for optimism feels genuine.
Capuozzo heads a batch of intriguing players. Starting on the left flank against France, Tommaso Menoncello was described by Paul Gustard, his former Benetton defense coach, as “built like a bull” but “shredded and super fast” with “great stamina”. Pierre Bruno, on the right wing, is a stocky athlete who scored twice against Samoa. The first, an impressive team play straight off a restart, comprised eight passes.
Tommaso Allan, in top form for the Harlequins, replaces the injured Paolo Garbisi at the midfield position with a tough, dynamic central pairing of Juan Ignacio Brex and Luca Morisi. Stephen Varney, Gloucester’s scrum half, is still just 21 years old. In the package, Danilo Fischetti, Niccolo Cannone and Lamaro were part of the Under-20 team that kicked off some top age results by defeating Ireland in the 2017 World Championships. Another Cannone, younger brother Lorenzo, will be at the base of the scrum. Fischetti, London’s crazy Irishman, beats defenders with delicate footwork and is a plague of breakdowns.
Part of Italy’s back play in the fall, with Capuozzo sweeping down the line, was exceptional. According to Opta, they moved the ball past the second receiver in 17 percent of the phases, a higher rate than any other team, with Samoa and Japan in second and third place. Benetton, on course to qualify for the United Rugby Championship Champions Cup, have been part of the quick-kick craze.
Crowley believes Italy need to be more “street smart” and Lamaro is keen for his team to “stop conceding mistake after mistake” so they can “stay in the fight for 80 minutes”. That said, the industrious rower also insists that a mature group is “comfortable and confident.” The behavior of Crowley, who played 19 tests for New Zealand between 1985 and 1991, is clearly useful.
“We had the launch of the Six Nations last year and the first question was about promotion and relegation,” he said a fortnight ago. “This year, it was four hours before it was mentioned, so things have changed a bit.
“Our whole mantra was to gain respect and credibility for Italian rugby. It is you who must say if we have achieved it, not us. But we are developing a game that suits us. We are achieving consistency in some teams, which is what you have to do to achieve cohesion. We are working hard on it and we will change a couple of things for the Six Nations.
“You always have to be a little innovative. We as coaches have a responsibility to rugby to make it a little more attractive to the spectators. It’s an entertainment business. You have to have fan participation.
“Test rugby is about winning and losing because that’s how you keep your job… but I’m an older manager so maybe that’s not that important to me.”
Hosting Wales in the fourth round would seem like the obvious opportunity in 2023 given Italy host the champions on the opening weekend before traveling to Twickenham and then taking on Ireland. Their World Cup schedule later this year is a complicated one, with France, New Zealand, Uruguay and Namibia in the same group. Yet despite Crowley’s phlegmatic tone, you feel they won’t have to suffer another 36 defeats before another Six Nations triumph. If they persist with a refreshing style, Italy will win supporters along the way.
“There is no goal. We are ranked sixth of the teams in this tournament,” Crowley concluded. “I have been asked what a good Six Nations is like. It would be building on our credibility. We can more than five games, let’s hope there are good positive results there.
“Our president could come out and say we need to win two games, but this group won’t peak for four or five years…. However, we will accept any victory.”