After a month of truly vintage North vs South International Test Rugby, we take a look at what the respective Coaches of the big Ten learnt about their charges. We also pick our player of the month from each of the teams as well as a starting XV for each of them and which we think would provide the platform they need for 2022 and beyond as the countdown to the World Cup begins. I apologize for not getting any posts out last week ahead of some rather important fixtures but, as mentioned before, work at the moment is getting the better of me and likely to continue to do so for the next few weeks.
In each of these five pieces we’ll pick out two of the teams in order of their success ratio this month; focus on what the Coaches must be feeling; pick a player that stood out the most and finally pick what we think is the kind of starting XV that will set them up well for 2022 and beyond.
So without any further ado let’s look at the two sides, that arguably fared the worst this month – Italy and Argentina.
Italy – Won 1 Lost 2
Let’s be brutally honest, Kieran Crowley’s first series of matches in charge of the Azurri hasn’t been particularly edifying. Despite a feisty opening half hour in their opening game against New Zealand, the omens don’t look good for an Italian side apparently cruising for yet another Wooden Spoon in the Six Nations looming just over the horizon. They were dispatched by an Argentinian side who themselves had a horde of demons in their closet, and their final match saw them struggle to close the deal against a spirited Uruguayan outfit. In short, Italy despite some genuine talent in their ranks as a team still look ill disciplined and poorly organized. The recent successes of Benetton in the Rainbow Cup and URC look a long way from what unfolded at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico and in Parma. On the basis of that it’s hard to not look past the fact that, until the recent Rainbow Cup, Crowley’s time at Treviso saw the team fail to win any of their regular season games last year. For Canadians it’s also equally painful to be reminded that under Crowley’s tenure Canada began it’s long slow slide into obscurity in International Test Rugby.
Nevertheless onwards and upwards. Take some stock from that opening half hour against New Zealand and a laboured but important win over up and coming Uruguay. Italy need structure, discipline and patience. If Crowley can instill those qualities in his charges then there is hope. They don’t have much of a front row and until they sort that out then a lot of their set piece work will simply be a points opportunity for the opposition as scrums and lineouts are simply too much of a lottery at the moment. However their second and back row stocks do look promising and their forwards are getting some traction in the breakdown areas provided they keep their discipline. Defensively their second and back rows can put in some big shifts as well as get some good go forward ball. Their young half back pairing shows plenty of promise, and goalkicking for the most part is assured, developing patience under pressure will be key here. In the centres there is also plenty of promise, but the skill sets do need to be tightened up in both ball security and defence. Lastly in the back three Italy has plenty of gas and talent, and is perhaps their strongest hand, if they can just figure out how to use it properly. So there’s your homework gentlemen – get to it otherwise it’s going to be a long and uncomfortable Six Nations.
A blinding talent needing structure
There were few standout individual performances from Italy this month, but this gentlemen had the lion’s share of them. The Benetton winger is just pure class and every time he gets the ball magic happens for the Azurri. The problem is all too often he gets either a hail Mary pass or is isolated as he makes yet another dazzling break. Add to that a defensive skill set that is actually better than most in his team and Ioane is without doubt becoming one of Italy’s most important assets with plenty of good years ahead of him.
So here’s the Lineout’s Italian starting XV:
- Loosehead Prop – Danilo Fischetti – Despite some discipline and technique problems he’s still our number one pick and held his own against New Zealand for the first 30 minutes. Worth sticking with.
- Hooker – Gianmarco Lucchesi. -Still very green but ultimately more promising than Luca Bigi.
- Tighthead Prop – Marco Riccioni – Best of a poor selection and a problem position for Italy, but worth the effort in development.
- Number 4 Lock – Niccolo Cannone – Gets better with every outing, just needs more game time.
- Number 5 Lock – Federico Ruzza – By far Italy’s most potent threat in the second row and a turnover specialist. They need to stop starting him off the bench.
- Blindside Flanker – Sebastian Negri – One of Italy’s best players by a country mile. Always puts in huge shifts and is an absolute tackle machine.
- Openside Flanker – Michele Lamaro – One of Italy’s impressive young guns who shows more maturity than his 23 years would appear to justify. Definite Captain material provided he can keep his emotions and discipline in check.
- No 8 – Giovanni Licata – Raw but effective talent that is rapidly giving Braam Steyn a run for his money, and has youth on his side.
- Scrum half – Stephen Varney – Started well against New Zealand until Italy started to implode and the pressure got the better of him, but works very well with his half back partner Paolo Garbisi.
- Fly Half – Paolo Garbisi – Given that Italy has very few options here, they are thanking their lucky stars that the youngster has so much talent. Wasn’t at his best this month but still a major signpost for Italy’s future.
- Left Wing – Monty Ioane – One of Italy’s most dynamic players and a constant asset with ball in hand. Makes the metres, increasingly makes the tackles and is getting more imaginative and strong in his running lines while being pretty handy under the high ball.
- Inside Centre – Marco Zanon – Ball handling can be a bit suspect at times, but a gifted footballer who provides some real spark in the inside channels and master of the sidestep.
- Outside Centre – Juan Ignacio Brex – The Argentinian import has proven his worth so far this year as a strong ball carrier who is defensively sound.
- Right Wing – Edoardo Padovani – His Benetton form didn’t quite stand out this month and he is usually more of a fullback, but his ability to switch between the two positions is useful given Matteo Minozzi’s ongoing injury issues.
- Fullback – Matteo Minozzi – When on song as he was against New Zealand in that opening half hour, he’s gold for Italy and for such a small man surprisingly effective in the physical contests. Solid under the high ball and possessing some dancing feet, Minozzi is a real complement to players like Padovani, Ioane and Zanon. Here’s hoping his ongoing battles with injury give him a break in 2022.
Argentina – Won 1 Lost 2
It’s been a tough year spent entirely on the road for Argentinian Coach Mario Ledesma and his charges. The euphoria of that historic win over the All Blacks last year now seems like ancient history. Since then it’s been a tough old twelve months for Ledesma. He has unearthed some exciting new talent, but we can’t help feeling that he is not being given the flexibility he needs to develop it by supporters back home demanding results which have been thin on the ground this past year. His hand has also been forced by injury at times, coupled with the mental fatigue of a year on the road in and out of Covid bubbles.
They may not have much to show in the way of results this year, but we saw enough to convince us that once this Argentinian team starts to click again, it will again be the side that can be everyone banana’s skin. They gave France an exhausting arm wrestle for the full eighty minutes, and their win over Italy was convincing if not emphatic. However, Ireland was clearly a bridge too far at the end of a long hard twelve months.
This is a talented, powerful and very skilled team that for reasons best known to itself is just slightly dysfunctional at the moment. They have a world class front row that also has some depth to it off the bench, and in Montoya they have a leader worthy of the boots left behind by the legendary Agustin Creevy. Their second row is the stuff of nightmares, provided it can keep its discipline and is an absolute menace come lineout time. Although riddled with poor discipline this month, their back row is one of the hardest hitting units in International Test Rugby at the moment and defensively is capable of some truly Herculean shifts. There is talent aplenty in their halfback pairings, and we argue that the experiment, borne out of necessity due to Nicolas Sanchez’s injuries this month, of throwing fullback Santiago Carreras into the understudy role for Sanchez was a brave move and one worth sticking with. Sanchez needs a successor, and while Carreras may not be a goalkicker we felt that he has genuine potential as a playmaker who like Sanchez is not shy of the rough and tumble. Their centers are world class when they use them, which sadly wasn’t very often this month. Lastly their back three oozes class, but needs quality ball which they just didn’t get, and if new winger Mateo Carreras didn’t impress you then you’re probably not a rugby fan.
Solid and dependable
He’s simply Argentina’s most valuable player at the moment and likely to remain so. He is a very different talisman for his team than his illustrious predecessor, but he is just as effective and his commitment to the cause and his teammates is always exemplary. On top of that he’s just downright good at the technical side of his job. Whenever he’s in the front row Argentina’s success rate automatically improves whether in the scrums or at the lineouts. His leadership style is quiet but forceful, and it would appear that his charges respect him both as a player and a leader. A competent and committed Captain who can keep his focus on the job at hand despite the scoreboard, while at the same time keeping his cool while those around him are losing theirs. In short, he’d be not only our pick for Argentina but also a Southern Hemisphere XV.
So here’s the Lineout’s Argentina starting XV:
- Loosehead Prop – Thomas Gallo – A revelation since Argentina’s tour to Wales this summer and rapidly making a name for himself at Benetton. Powerful scrummager who also has a rather handy eye for the try line.
- Hooker – Julian Montoya – One of the best, no need for further discussion.
- Tighthead Prop – Santiago Medrano – A long way from being the finished product but definitely the way forward and Gomez-Kodela will not make France 2023.
- Number 4 Lock – Guido Petti – Lacked some of his traditional fire this month, but still a devastating effective lineout poacher with a genuine turn of speed, and capable of some real heroics in defence.
- Number 5 Lock – Lucas Paulos – Still a bit green but better at managing his temperament than regular Tomas Lavanini. Definitely has the potential and more likely to stay on the right side of the referee’s whistle than red card liability Lavanini.
- Blindside Flanker – Pablo Matera – His discipline was poor this month but when it comes to physical commitment he’s hard to beat as is his eye for opportunity and causing havoc at the breakdowns and in the loose, coupled to a defensive effort that beggars belief at times.
- Openside Flanker – Marcos Kremer – Along with South Africa’s Eben Etzebeth, probably one of the most intimidating physical presences in International Test Rugby right now. Bulldozes opposition defenses into submission while presenting the equivalent of Hadrian’s Wall for them them to get through. Tough, hard and with ball in hand exceptionally difficult to bring down. Also seems impervious to injury. Like Matera had a poor month discipline wise and let his emotions get the better of him.
- No 8 – Facundo Isa – A bit of a problem position for Argentina at the moment, and although better than we’ve seen from Isa in a while, still not quite at the races and no clear favorite or specialist for the position.
- Scrum Half – Tomas Cubelli – Better showing from Cubelli and in many ways back to his best.
- Fly Half – Santiago Carreras – Despite the experiment we feel it’s worth sticking with. The lack of a goal kicker which Carreras clearly is not is a huge problem, but as a playmaker it’s been a good month of apprenticeship and we have a hunch it will pay dividends in the long run. Give it time.
- Left wing – Mateo Carreras – Young and slightly green around the edges but has no fear of the big occasions. Exceptionally exciting and talented young player that Argentina will really want to develop.
- Inside Centre – Jeronimo de la Feunte – Not a particularly flash month for the poweful centre, but a proven commodity and will no doubt be back to his best once he’s had some down time.
- Outside Centre – Lucio Cinti – Another new find who had little opportunity to shine, but when he did the skill set he can bring to Argentina’s midfield play was obvious.
- Right Wing – Bautista Delguy – Nobody really stood out for Argentina out wide on the right, but against France Delguy looked the most dangerous and has the advantage of being able to cover fullback if Boffelli is having a bad day. Best of a set of players who got little opportunity to shine.
- Fullback – Emiliano Boffelli – Scored some useful turnover ball for his side, and made some good metres but his goalkicking was erratic when Argentina needed it the most. Only player we got to see in the role during November, but not sure he’s still a shoe in for the World Cup.
That’s it for now, next up Australia and New Zealand!