Italy fullback and new Wasps signing Matteo Minozzi will signal the end of an 11-month battle to overcome a horrific knee ligament injury by facing Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on August 10 to prove he is ready to set the Rugby World Cup alight in Japan.
Coach Conor O’Shea believes Minozzi can become one of the stand out players at the World Cup thanks to a potent combination of pace and electric footwork drawing comparisons with Jason Robinson, England’s 2003 World Cup-winning wing, who is also 5ft 7ins tall. With Italy’s Cup pool including New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Namibia, O’Shea will need all of his attacking weapons fully fit.
Minozzi suffered the ACL knee injury playing for Zebre and it required two operations and a long period of rehabilitation to get the full back fit again and his return is also great news for Wasps who have signed the Italian to fill the void created by the departure of Wille le Roux, the Springbok fullback, who was such a key member of their attack.
Italy will spend next week in Limerick ahead of their first warm-up game against Ireland and they are also taking on Russia, France and England before heading to Japan. O’Shea, who yesterday confirmed Zebre captain Tommaso Castello is out of the Cup, cannot hide his excitement at having Minozzi back in the squad. The fullback scored four tries in five games and was nominated for the 2018 Six Nations Player of the Tournament.
Now, with ten tests to his name the 23-year-old Wasps fullback is aiming to become the latest “small guy” to make a big impression following in the bootprints of Robinson and Toulouse’s Cheslin Kolbe. O’Shea told RugbyPass: “Matteo will be on the bench against Ireland and he is the quickest player in our squad. He is a mercurial player who has worked so hard to get back from a horrific injury. He has his speed and agility back and everyone in rugby will be delighted to see Matteo back on the pitch.
“You get players like Matteo coming along every once in a while and he although he is not the biggest, he can do things others can’t. When the Wasps fans see him they will say “he’s small” but so is Kolbe and Jason Robinson. These guys remind you that it’s not all about being a big a bulldozer. Matteo is a boy who was born to play rugby and can see things other can’t. You cannot coach that – it’s what makes them special. Some players train like Tarzan and play like Jane. Matteo trains and plays like Tarzan.”
O’Shea is unhappy with the short turnaround between their opening two Cup games with Namibia and Canada and wants the situation addressed for future tournaments. “We face a colossal challenge in our Pool but If we can get our best XV on the park then on any given day we can take on anyone. We are not delusional and are third favourites to get out of our Pool but we have x-factor players like Minozzi, Jayden Hayward, Tommy Allan, Sergio Parisse and Jake Polledri .
“We have Namibia and Canada in the space of four days at the start of our Cup campaign and we know they will be targeting us. To prepare for the biggest event for any rugby player and have to play two games in four days is something that has to be looked at. We will be traveling for four or five hours after the Namibia match. This is the fittest Italian squad there has been and we had to start this at the beginning of June and across the board we are in a good situation.
“We will finalise when our 31 man squad for the World Cup will be named after we play Ireland and there is a lot riding on the match for some players. You want to give everyone a chance to impress and push for those last few places and those selections revolve around do you take 18 forwards and 13 backs or 17 and 14? The last three or four selections give energy and balance to the squad. It has been unbelievably hot here in Italy and it will go down a bit in Ireland next week.”
Members of the Italy squad based in Treviso took part in a training session with the England players and O’Shea was pleased with the outcome. He added: “ It was very worthwhile and unlike the session England did with Georgia earlier this year it didn’t end up in any brawling. Everyone was very well behaved.”
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