World Rugby

State Of The Nation: Italians Must Collect At Least One Win In 2024

State Of The Nation: Italians Must Collect At Least One Win In 2024

Italy's 2024 Guinness Six Nations campaign has gotten off to a slow start with two losses. Here is a full breakdown of their championship to date.

Feb 20, 2024 by Philip Bendon
State Of The Nation: Italians Must Collect At Least One Win In 2024

A new year, same results… Not exactly music to Italian Rugby fans' ears, as the Azzurri begin life under new coach Gonzalo Quesada.

Interspersing the doubt and disappointment of just a single log point out of a possible 10 are moments where the clearly talented men in blue have showcased their brilliance.

Beginning their campaign on a fresh afternoon in Rome, the Italians gave 2023 Rugby World Cup semifinalist England all it could handle.

In attack, the spark of exuberance that was present under former coach Kieran Crowley had been layered with a hard-nosed edge brought in by their new Argentinean head coach.

Pummeling the new English rush defensive system with its powerful ball-carrying centers, Italy parted the white defensive line like Moses did the Red Sea. Unable to handle the physicality and pace of Ignacio Brex and Tommaso Menoncello, England was vulnerable.

Yet, as has been the case for as long as Italy has been at the top table of European Rugby, the belief that it could swat aside its more fancied rivals was not there.

In the end, a losing bonus point courtesy of a late try by winger Monty Ioane was scant consolation for Quesada’s charges, who possibly have seen their best opportunity for this season slip by.

Fast forward a week, and the challenge facing the Azzurri would be astronomically more difficult.

If one were to offer Quesada a mulligan to be excluded from his team’s 2024 schedule, it would be a trip to Dublin to face the best team in this year’s championship.

So, it would prove to be a step too far for this young team. Ireland blitzed Italy without ever really getting out of second gear.

A score of 36-0 makes for humbling reading for Italian supporters, and so it was a reminder that the gap between the top three sides in the world, of which Ireland is the only side from the Northern Hemisphere, remains significant.

Looking Ahead

Focusing on the remainder of the championship, on paper, there are three fixtures Italy has the ability to win.

Holding back the Italians will be their self-belief, or lack thereof, to go out and do the job.

In normal circumstances, a trip to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy to face a team they have not beaten since 2013, and who put 60 points on them just five months ago, would be a lost cause from the outset.

However, all is not rosy in the French camp. France opened the tournament with a record loss to Ireland at home, before being handed a victory by a refereeing technicality a week later in Edinburgh.

Clearly still fragile from the gut-wrenching one-point loss in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals, Les Bleus are there for the taking.

To achieve this, a fast start by the Italians is non-negotiable. If Quesada’s charges can silence the Lille crowd early on and, with it, sow the seeds of doubt in a team that clearly lacks confidence, a special day for Italian rugby is possible.

Round 4 will bring with it a return to Rome to face Scotland, which is facing a crisis of identity coming out of the fallow week.

In every reality, Scotland should be sitting with two wins, one of which should have been a full five-point victory.

Instead, a record victory in Cardiff nearly became a horror show, as Gregor Townsend’s side let slip a 27-0 lead early in the second half to remain scoreless for the final 35 minutes.

In the end, a 27-26 victory over a rebuilding Welsh side with just four log points was a frustrating relief for the Scots.

Clearly cashing in all of their good fortune in the first 45 minutes in Cardiff, Scotland would be robbed of a second victory in Edinburgh, as they were adjudged to have been held up with a last-gasp try.

In reality, it never should have come to this, and for the sake of this writer’s sanity, this implosion has been dealt with in our Scottish State Of The Nations piece.

Finally returning to the site of its most recent Six Nations conquest, Italy faced an ascending Welsh side which, at the flip of a coin, could have been sitting with two wins ahead of Round 3.

Instead, Warren Gatland’s youngsters showed their inexperience, falling just short to the experienced operators within the English and Scottish squads.

On paper, this will be Italy’s easiest clash, but in reality, it will face a squad that knows exactly what it is trying to achieve. 

Man-for-man, the Azzurri are more talented across the board than this Welsh team, and they should have this mindset before even boarding the flight to Cardiff.

If ever there was a time to shut up or put up, this would be it. Italy’s forward pack are dynamic enough to counter any Welsh threat, while its front row is significantly better than the host. Thus, if Quesada’s side can get on top at scrum time, it will allow their backline the opportunity to attack the unusually lightweight Welsh backs.

Key To Success

Belief, belief and more belief is all the Italians need to secure at least one victory in this year’s Six Nations Championship.

Knocking over France in France would set the table for a run of victories unlike any in Italian Six Nations history.

As far-fetched as three wins may sound, it is not insurmountable.

Facing England and Ireland in the opening two rounds was as tough as it could get for Italy. 

Historically, outside of a 2013 victory over Ireland, it has been a no contest between the sides, as the Azzurri have struggled to match the power game of the two teams.

Against Scotland, though it has not happened since 2015, Italy has its best record in the Six Nations with seven victories. Against France, Italy has two victories. Against Wales, Italy has three wins, with the latest coming in 2022.

None of this makes good reading, but as Llyod from Dumb and Dumber said, “So you’re telling me there is a chance?"

To put aside the disappointment of 2023’s Six Nations and Rugby World Cup campaigns, a win is non-negotiable for the Azzurri. Failure to do so, and the calls for removal from the Six Nations once again will rear their ugly heads.

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