Italy were the final team to announce their final Six Nations squad, and despite improvements in Italian domestic rugby, the Azzurri will do well to avoid another wooden spoon.
Italy Six Nations Squad 2018
Italy coach Conor O’Shea has made three changes to his starting team for the Six Nations match against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.
Braam Steyn comes into the back row to replace Renato Giammarioli while in the front row Nicola Quaglio and Luca Bigi will start the Test.
UPDATED: Italy Team to play Ireland in Six Nations – Saturday 10 February
Minozzi; Benvenuti, Boni, Castello, Bellini; Allan, Violi; Quaglio, Bigi, Ferrari, Zanni, Budd, Negri, Steyn, Parisse.
Replacements: Ghiraldini, Lovotti, Pasquali, Ruzza, Mbanda, Gori, Canna, Hayward.
Related: Italy 15-46 England match report
Italy have named the squad for the Six Nations and it includes Alessandro Zanni who has been brought back into the Italian squad and another experienced lieutenant to the colossal Sergio Parisse.
Related: Six Nations TV Coverage
Zanni, stuck on 99 caps for a couple of years now, brings unquestionable experience and Test know-how to an Italian squad that is desperate for an edge. Indeed, it looks like Italy will once again rely heavily on Parisse to produce moments of brilliance.
If Parisse plays in every game and Italy get whitewashed, then he will become the first player to lose 100 Tests. A player of Parisse’s longevity and quality may not deserve that record, but it is hard to see how it can be avoided. The bookies believe that the Italians will lose every game.
To make matters worse, Italy have casualties of their own. The exciting trio of Leonardo Sarto, Michele Campagnaro, and Angelo Esposito are all injured and will likely be out the entirety of the tournament. Lock Marco Fuser is also a medium-term doubt due to a concussion.
However, if the words of coach Conor O’Shea are anything to go by, there is a lot to be positive about in Italian rugby. During the announcement of the squad he said, “It was a very positive camp and the team cannot wait for the upcoming games. We wish Leonardo a quick recovery from his injury and we have no doubt that we’ll need the whole squad, including those players not called up for the first two games.”
There is some young talent moving up, like young uncapped prop Marco Riccioni. A former captain of the Italian Under 20 side, he is the only uncapped player in the squad – Gloucester back-rower Jake Polledri was cut from the wider training squad. Polledri has been playing well in the Premiership. With Italy planning for life post-Parisse, should Polledri come in eventually?
Another positive is that Benetton Treviso, and Zebre – who make up the vast majority of the Azzurri squad – and both have improved massively in this years Pro14 competition. Collectively they have nine wins from 26 games in the competition which is a giant leap compared to last year. Both have also competed respectably on the European scene, with Treviso pushing Toulon and the Scarlets to hard fought victories in Rounds two and three of the Champions Cup. Zebre did the same against Pau and Gloucester in the same rounds of the Challenge Cup.
Italy’s schedule, especially at the start of the tournament is as bad as it could possibly be as they play England in Rome, and then Ireland at the Aviva Stadium six days later. They then have France away – a Friday night game in Marseille, the first time France have held a Six Nations encounter outside of Paris. They face Wales in the fourth round, again away, and finally Scotland at home.
When asked about the schedule, O’Shea said: “It’s tough, but we think we’re in a miles better place than we were 12 months ago. I know we’re in a better place. I think we have a better foundation than people understand in our game. I think we will make controlled decisions and take controlled risks. That may mean we will lose a bit of set-piece [strength] but we will go for it and we won’t die wondering as opposed to being secure.”
Italy kick off their Six Nations this weekend on Sunday 4 February.
Italy Six Nations Squad 2018
Tommaso Allan (Benetton Rugby, 33 caps)
Carlo Canna (Zebre Rugby Club, 25 caps)
Tommaso Castello (Zebre Rugby Club, 5 caps)
Mattia Bellini (Zebre Rugby Club, 8 caps)
Tommaso Benvenuti (Benetton Rugby, 45 caps)
Giulio Bisegni (Zebre Rugby Club, 7 caps)
Tommaso Boni (Zebre Rugby Club, 8 caps)
Edoardo Gori (Benetton Rugby, 65 caps)
Jayden Hayward (Benetton Rugby, 3 caps)
Ian McKinley (Benetton Rugby, 3 caps)
Matteo Minozzi (Zebre Rugby Club, 3 caps)
Edoardo Padovani (Zebre Rugby Club, 14 caps
Marcello Violi (Zebre Rugby Club, 8 caps)
George Biagi (Zebre Rugby Club, 19 caps)
Luca Bigi (Benetton Rugby, 6 caps)
Dean Budd (Benetton Rugby, 6 caps)
Oliviero Fabiani (Zebre Rugby Club, 4 caps)
Simone Ferrari (Benetton Rugby, 8 caps)
Leonardo Ghiraldini (Stade Toulousain, 89 caps)
Renato Giammarioli (Zebre Rugby Club, 1 cap)
Giovanni Licata (Fiamme Oro Rugby, 3 caps)
Andrea Lovotti (Zebre Rugby Club, 20 caps)
Maxime Mata Mbanda’ (Zebre Rugby Club, 11 caps)
Sebastian Negri Da Oleggio (Benetton Rugby, 2 caps)
Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais, 129 caps) – captain
Tiziano Pasquali (Benetton Rugby, 2 caps)
Nicola Quaglio (Benetton Rugby, 2 caps)
Marco Riccioni (Benetton Rugby, uncapped)
Federico Ruzza (Benetton Rugby, 3 caps)
Abraham Steyn (Benetton Rugby, 17 caps)
Alessandro Zanni (Benetton Rugby, 99 caps)
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