The Lineout’s Annual Report Cards for 2018 – Part 1 – Italy

With the Northern Hemisphere season now done and dusted till September, we hand out our verdict on the Six Nations Competitors and what we feel they got out of their year on a score out of ten.

We’ll be the first to admit it’s completely subjective based on what we saw and where in our humble opinions it leaves the teams heading into the 2018/2019 season, with the added twist of the World Cup being only a year away once England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales get back to business in September. We highlight the match we most enjoyed from each of the teams and we try to pick the player who made the greatest contribution to their national cause over the past season as well as the player that we feel is most likely to catch the eye in the next. So take from it what you will but without any further ado let’s get into it in part 1 where we take a look at how Italy fared.

Italy – 5/10

Yes there have been some positives for Italy this season but sadly they have been few and far between. Despite the efforts made by their Coach Conor O’Shea and some exciting new talent, Italy can’t seem to last more than 50 minutes at Test level. There is plenty to work with, but given their track record this past season, it is hard to imagine them making much of a mark come the World Cup in Japan next year, especially when you consider that they would have to upset either a dominant New Zealand side or a resurgent Springbok unit to get beyond the Pool stages. That being said however, it surely takes the pressure off O’Shea to produce miracles come the World Cup. Instead, he can focus on to making Italy a strong third place finisher in their Pool, especially as they are likely to face two teams still to be determined. Consequently, Italy can use the tournament as the building blocks by which to mount a genuine challenge come the next global showdown four years later in France.

Italy opened their season in November with an optimistic start against Fiji, but thereafter it soon went downhill, as they were comprehensively beaten by Argentina and a poor South African side. The last two matches in particular were torrid affairs and a poor advertisement for not only Italian rugby but the sport in general. Even the talismanic Sergio Parisse seemed unable to lift Italy out of its malaise. In short, it was a worrying omen for how much of Italy’s season would progress.

The Six Nations, despite Italy comfortably taking the wooden spoon, would still see some exciting play from the Azurri. In an otherwise forgettable campaign they unearthed some genuine world-class talent that bodes well for the future. Despite their opening drubbing at the hands of England, flanker Sebastian Negri immediately grabbed the headlines and was from the outset one of Italy’s shining lights of the tournament. Meanwhile in the backs, Italy also produced some nuggets but none more so than fullback Matteo Minozzi and centre Tommaso Castello. The fullback in particular was one of the most exciting players of the tournament, and despite Italy ending up winless, they still provided some real sparks in attack and at times were a pleasure to watch.

Despite coming severely unstuck against Ireland, France and Wales, the Italians managed to save their best performance of the Six Nations for last as they took on a highly rated Scottish side in Rome. In front of an ecstatic crowd they just narrowly missed getting their first win of the tournament, as Scotland put on the afterburners in the final 15 minutes of the match and managed to eke out a narrow win. Once again though, despite a commanding performance in the first three-quarters of the match, Italy once again faded in the final twenty. This inability to go the distance in the last quarter of big games continues to be Italy’s Achilles Heel.

Italy ended their season in Japan, which was excellent preparation for next year’s global showdown. Their opening match saw them unable to contain a rampant Japanese side, but by the time of their second and final Test they seemed to have regained the composure that they will need for next year, and put in a solid performance that gave them a win and a real high note to end the year with.

On looking at their results, it may seem hard to feel that Italy got much out of this year. However, if you look deeper and regard it as a year in which Italy sought to learn a great deal about its next generation of players and develop some depth, then it can be considered a success. They have a respectable front and second row, albeit still needing some work on discipline and technique. Their back row, especially in the form of Sebastian Negri shows some real promise, although a replacement for the legendary Sergio Parisse at eight really needs to be found post Japan 2019. Their half back pairings also started to gel well at times this year, and in the backs there is a growing nucleus of young and potent strike threats, especially in the shape of Matteo Minozzi.

Italy needed to get results and they will be disappointed that this year has been such a lean season, hence us sadly giving them such a low score. However, at times they really did capture the imagination and this young squad produced some superb rugby. We sincerely believe that Italy and Conor O’Shea’s coaching team are headed for a better season starting in September, and although it’s very early days there is plenty for Italian supporters to feel optimistic about. Italy need to really develop this young group of exciting players for life beyond Japan 2019, and use the coming season as a key stepping stone in this process. One thing Italy surprisingly had no trouble doing this past season was score tries. 18 tries in ten matches is certainly respectable for any International side.

We genuinely believe that Italy will be better this year and are capable of one or two upsets. Either way there is enough promise in this young squad to make us want to see how much better they could be this year, especially if they find an extra fifteen minutes in the tank for all their Tests in the buildup to next year’s World Cup. Definitely very much a work in progress but one worth watching!

Match of the year – Italy vs Scotland – Rome – March 17th – Italy 27/Scotland 29

The thriller in Rome, was without a doubt Italy’s best performance of the year. Fly half Tommaso Allan’s two tries really summed up how this player really came of age for Italy this season, and how when Italy click they really can be a difficult side to contain. Italy were competitive, and although they faded in the final quarter, they gave us a thrilling spectacle of attacking rugby at times coupled to some dogged defence. It was the kind of performance that Italy will really need to draw on for the coming season.

Player of the year – Tommaso Allan

We’ve always been a fan of the young Italian fly half ever since his debut for Italy four years ago. He lends some real flair and brains to the 10 jersey for the Azurri, and a reliable boot when needed. His game management is really starting to develop, and he is likely to be one of Italy’s leaders in years to come. In short, a very valuable player for Italy who is really starting to show the maturity and composure needed at this level.

Player to watch in 2019 – Matteo Minozzi

This was a tough one for us as we were almost tempted to have Minozzi share the honors with flanker Sebastian Negri, such was the calibre of the flanker’s efforts this past season for Italy. However, Minozzi at fullback has been so exciting to watch in his first season with Italy that we just had to give it to him. At the tender age of 22, he shows an ability and wisdom well beyond his years. Furthermore, despite his small stature he was often remarkable in defence at times.  Minozzi was often seen putting in those critical last-ditch tackles as well as punching well above his weight. Expect plenty more fireworks from the Italian pocket-sized speedster this season.

We’ll end this report card with some highlights of Italy’s best Test of the year against Scotland during the Six Nations, in which they came so close to setting the tone they wanted and need for this upcoming season!

To be continued – up next France!


Published by Neil Olsen

Passionate about rugby and trying to promote the global game in Canada and North America.

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