Talking about Italy in your local rugby clubhouse is always an interesting vibe. You’ll have your usual Six Nations fans pointing out their shoddy winning record in recent years, in conjunction with those informed sorts who have noticed what a bright, young team they have, with multiple wins against England and Wales at u20 level.
But now, there’s a curveball for all Azzurri apologists to throw in there: they’ve beaten Wales in Cardiff, walloped Samoa, who were only a place above them in the World Rugby rankings and triumphed to a well-deserved victory over the Wallabies at home. These upsets don’t come by accident, as Italy soldier on with England and the All Blacks as the only ‘Tier 1’ teams they haven’t trumped.
This is only the beginning for Italy – their matchday 23 against Australia at the weekend only contained three players over the age of 30 and one player with over 50 caps. As this team becomes more experienced, they will only grow into the habit of winning, especially with the next crop ready to come through.
So who are Italy’s shining lights? Loosehead props Danilo Fischetti and Ivan Nemer combine brawn with beauty – Fischetti a firing up a world-class engine and breakdown ability, Nemer possessing the skillset of Barry John on steroids. Flair full-back Ange Capuozzo may have a few work-ons, but is a truly exceptional talent who is learning from the best in a Toulouse environment that honed Cheslin Kolbe. Above all, skipper Michele Lamaro is the talisman who secures Italy the possession to allow them the license to thrill and play the attractive brand of rugby they do.
On the subject of Italy’s exciting attack, Australia are the sort of team who are guaranteed to score tries against you, so you just have to outscore them. It’s safe to say Italy were near-perfect in their execution against the Wallabies, so let’s have a look at some of their high points in attack. Where better to start than their 25th-minute try, finished by Capuozzo himself?
Italy set up a double hit/boot shape here. Gianmarco Lucchese in the blue scrum cap is the lead carrier, with Simone Ferrari as his tip-on. Tommaso Allan is in the boot, with the same shape set up outside him. Lucchese originally runs an outward line, then squares up at the last moment, inviting Allan Alaalatoa to smash him rather than drifting off and covering the outside.
Will Skelton (circled in yellow) does an excellent job, pushing off Ferrari and targeting Allan, but Lorenzo Cannone bails Allan out. Cannone runs a perfect unders line, forcing Len Ikitau to bite in and cover him. As the ball goes out the back, Ikitau is no stranger to doubling up and covering two channels, so Cannone (circled in blue) gives him a small bump on the shoulder to knock him down. He’s extremely subtle and doesn’t change his line, but this way Ikitau can’t cover the overlap and Cannone won’t get penalised.
With Ikitau on the floor, Monty Ioane catches the ball from the boot position. His job is to draw in Hunter Paisami – so, being the rapid, muscular runner he is, he transfers the ball into one hand, convincing Paisami he’s intending to take the inside gap himself and go the whole way. Paisami jams in on Ioane, who transfers the ball back in two hands and offloads to Luca Morisi.
Morisi flips the ball on to Juan Ignacio Brex, who feeds Capuozzo. Mark Nawaqanitawase is faced with the impossible task of a 2v1. He trusts his inside defence and drifts onto Pierre Bruno, but with a little help from Brex standing in between Capuozzo and Jock Campbell, Capuozzo burns all of the Australian cover for pace. If Italy can engineer a position where their young star full-back has one defender and any space in front of him, you may as well notch up 5 points on the scoreboard already.
Speaking of Capuozzo, let’s have a look at the detail on his second try, in the 64th minute.
Italy set up another hit/boot shape. They essentially have a stack of four players stood in a vertical line, with Capuozzo (circled in blue) starting his run slightly on the inside of ball carrier Brex. At this stage, he is not a threat to Jock Campbell, the furthest out defender, who is off-screen.
As the ball goes out the back to Allan, Italy have evidently done their homework on Ikitau. Much like Cannone in the previous example, Tommaso Menoncello puts his body in the way of Ikitau. They have identified that he is one of the best players at running a drift defence, but not if you put a body in his way. Note how Capuozzo is still on Ioane’s inside.
Only when Ioane catches the ball does Capuozzo really become a threat. He stays hidden until the last moment then accelerates into the gap outside Tom Wright.
Given what a dangerous try-scorer Ioane is, Wright has to tackle him, freeing up Capuozzo in the gap. Because Capuozzo didn’t play his hand until the last moment, Campbell (far left) doesn’t see him coming and stays on the outside. From Brex stepping up to play the ball to Capuozzo getting through the gap, all of this happens inside less than three seconds.
If Capuozzo didn’t have the speed to accelerate into the gap at the last moment, it would have been much easier for Campbell to read the play and shut it down. But Capuozzo’s pace grants him the gift of subtlety, hitting the gap before anyone knows he’s there, and subsequently crossing for his second try.
What’s interesting is both of these tries are scored from structured play. In the last few years, Italy have been known to innovate at set-piece, which has granted them some points in defeat. If they can marry these two ideas, it will be a serious sign of Italy’s attack clicking, and they will be a really difficult team to live with.
Considering they pulled off this victory without Paolo Garbisi, and seemingly without Allan’s right boot, you can’t help but wonder if Italy have more in the tank. Their structures are beginning to fall into place, and their youngsters are beginning to gain the level of experience required to pull off big upsets.
When you next discuss Italy in your local clubhouse, don’t bring up their Six Nations losing record. Don’t bring up Sergio Parisse. Bring up Michele Lamaro. Lamaro is a man who visibly hates losing, no matter how well he plays on an individual level. If his team (and the recent succession of u20s teams) carry on as they are, he may reach a stage whereby he can get used to winning. Lamaro doesn’t want to be the next Sergio Parisse. He wants to be the next Richie McCaw.
Join free and tell us what you really think!Join Free