Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Saturday February 1, 9:30 AM Eastern – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

This is the most uneven of the weekend’s fixtures on paper – Wales is favored by around 20 points – and the match could be even more lopsided than that. The Welsh Rugby Union announced this morning that the roof at the Millennium will be closed, a condition which will hopefully encourage the Welsh to play a more attacking, open style – the exact opposite of what the Italians want.

Italy will field a starting XV composed of a pack with a massive 587 combined caps, and a backline with just 115 caps between them – perhaps the largest disparity ever in an international rugby team. Injuries have forced coach Jacques Brunel to pick a very inexperienced backline – Angelo Esposito makes his debut on one wing, while on the other wing, Leonardo Sarto will make just his third appearance for the Azzurri. At outside center, Michele Campagnaro will also be making his third appearance, while flyhalf Tommaso Allen is the relative veteran of this young group, playing in his fourth Test. The experience of scrumhalf Edoardo Gori, inside center Alberto Sgarbi, and fullback Luke McLean will be vital as Italy seek to contain the huge threat of the Welsh backline, currently the most potent attacking force in the Northern Hemisphere.

For Wales, British and Irish Lion Jonathan Davies misses out on selection, as he is just coming back from a pectoral injury he suffered against South Africa during the Autumn Tests. But Davies has a very talented deputy in Scott Williams, and otherwise the Welsh are at full strength in the backs. In the pack, captain Sam Warburton has been judged only fit enough to make the bench, so Justin Tipuric, a more traditional 7, slots into the back row alongside Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau. Lock Alun-Wyn Jones takes over the captaincy. Lydiate will be under some scrutiny, as he has been in poor form for his club, Racing Metro, where he has been required to do more ball-carrying than he is used to. Loosehead prop Gethin Jenkins is just returning to fitness after a recurrence of his persistent calf problem, so Paul James starts in his place.

For Italy to keep this one close, they will need to keep the game as tight as possible through the forwards, and go hard at the breakdown to slow down Welsh ball. Everyone in the rugby world knows how good Italian number 8 Sergio Parisse is, but his back row colleague Alessandro Zanni is also a fine player, and they are joined by another wily veteran in Mauro Bergamasco. These three will have to dig deep into the bag of tricks they’ve assembled over a combined 276 Test matches for Italy. The trouble is that the Welsh back row is also very good, and very balanced. Essentially, Lydiate is the tackling machine, Tipuric is the turnover specialist, and Faletau is the primary ball carrier – when they are all in form, they compliment each other so well, and it is a beautiful thing to watch.

Unfortunately for the Italians, with the roof closed, there are likely to be fewer handling errors, and thus fewer scrums. Welsh tighthead Adam Jones, the rock of the Welsh scrum for so many years, has admittedly struggled with the new scrum laws, and the Italians will be confident at scrum time. But how many opportunities will they get? Neutrals will be hoping Italy put in a big performance to make this match competitive, but I just can’t see it happening. Wales by 25

Below, highlights from last year’s match in Rome:

Saturday November 23, 9 AM Eastern – Stadio Olimpico, Rome

As rugby-playing nations, there are many similarities between Italy and Argentina. In both countries, soccer is king – but there are also rugby-mad regions. Italy’s rugby culture is heavily concentrated in the North – Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna. The sport is more widely popular in Argentina, but still based in the Greater Buenos Aires area and the northwestern Tucumán Province. Both countries have had to battle to gain acceptance from the world rugby community, and now participate at the highest level of international competition – Italy in the Six Nations (since 2000) and Argentina in the Rugby Championship (since 2012). Both countries are known for their strong forward play, and particularly excellent scrummaging, although Argentina has also produced world-class backs such as Hugo Porta, Agustín Pichot, Felipe Contepomi, and Juan Martín Hernández. Perhaps more than anything else, these two teams are passionate. The emotion on the players’ faces during the national anthems is truly something to behold. Gives me chills every time.

 

Italy comes into this match on the back of a 37-31 victory over Fiji, while Argentina was trounced by Wales 40-6. Italy’s most well-known player is number 8 Sergio Parisse – he is their captain and one of the best in the world at his position. His colleagues Alessandro Zanni and Robert Barbieri are also fine players, and together they form one of the most underrated back rows in international rugby.  Young backs Tommaso Allan and Michele Campagnaro will start for Italy for the first time, at flyhalf and outside center, respectively. Flyhalf has long been a problem position for the Italians, and they will be hoping for an assured performance from the 20-year old Allan.

Meanwhile, Los Pumas are without their inspirational captain Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe and the aforementioned Hernández due to injury. They are also missing first-choice centers Marcelo Bosch and Santiago Fernández, as well as lock Patricio Albacete, due to a release agreement between the players’ clubs and the Unión Argentina de Rugby (UAR).

I expect a physical, scrappy encounter with Italy coming out on top due to Argentina’s personnel issues and home-field advantage. Italy by 7