World Cup Preview: Italy

Group C Opposition: Australia, Ireland, USA and Russia

Pedigree: Not good.  Italy have never really brought the ferocity with which they play in the Six Nations to bear on a World Cup.  They have never been in the quarter finals before.

Players to watch: Italy’s hopes tend to rest on the impressive shoulders of one extraordinary man.  Sergio Parisse is the world’s premier Number 8; the phenomenal combination of glue-like hands, ferocious physicality and insatiable desire to win mke him the sort of player it is just a pleasure to watch.  He is helped out in the backrow by the excellent lieutenant Alessandro Zanni.  Italy need a bunch of backs to capitalise on the forward power, and they will be hoping that Tomasso Benvenuti and Andrea Masi will provide a spark of creativity to turn pressure into tries, and hopefully Fabio Semenzato follows through on an excellent 6 Nations.
Good tournament: They need to beat Ireland and make the quarter finals.

Bad tournament: If they go out in the group stages it will be a disappointment.

Prospects: Italy are in the best shape they have ever been in, and they have a reasonable chance of achieving their aim.  The days of the 60-minute Italian performance have been banished, and the Italian players are now fit and able for the full 80. Indeed, they staged late rallies this year to defeat France and scare Ireland. Gone, also, is the awful first-up tackling that allowed opponents to rack up scores with minimal creativity.  They won’t go down easily.

This is Nick Mallet’s last tournament in charge, and the players will surely want to do their marvellous coach justice. They need a couple of things to go in their favour.  They need Australia to beat Ireland, preferably handsomely, thereby making the final game in Dunedin a winner-takes-all shootout, the very type of occasion that will make Ireland edgy.  Then they need a rainy day in Dunedin (not a whole lot to ask for, by all accounts) and as many scrums as possible.  Then all bets are off.

Where they lack is at fly-half and in remaining composed in clutch situations.  They should have beaten Ireland in the Six Nations (Wales too), but when the pressure was on, they fudged a restart and allowed Ireland into drop goal territory.  Meanwhile, the search for the next Diego Dominguez goes on. Following Craig Gower’s injury (and subsequent code switch), and Kyle Burton being banished, Luciano Orquera will be the man responsibe for guiding Italy from the pivot role.  He will need to shape up and fast if Italy are to finally make an impact at a World Cup.

Verdict: Almost certain to come down to a nailbiting finish, but we suspect they’ll probably come up just short. 3rd in group.