By George Willoughby
Rugby fans across the world don’t have to wait much longer until the 2019 Six Nations commences.
Italy, who have struggled mightily in recent tournaments, will be looking to at least go one better than their winless showing last year.
There are no expectations for this Italian side to challenge for the Six Nations title. This comes from the fact that Italy have lost their previous 17 Championship games, so at this current juncture, an upset win might be the only thing at stake, and pride of course.
If Italy were to lose their opening match, which is a trip to Murrayfield to face Scotland, then they would achieve the title of having the worst Championship run in history with 18-straight defeats.
Clearly not a desirable record to have, so you would like to think the Italian players will be giving everything they have against Gregor Townsend’s side.
As mentioned earlier, Italy will begin their Six Nations against Scotland, and if their previous encounter in last year’s competition has anything to go by, then we should be in for a pulsating match. Scotland had the boot of Greg Laidlaw to thank who sealed the victory with a precise kick in the dying embers of a tightly contested game in Rome.
Italy will have to take all that grit, determination and perseverance shown in defeat into this year’s competition if they are to avoid another winless Six Nations campaign. Conor O’Shea’s men will then have back-to-back home matches at the Stadio Olimpico, as they host Wales, and then defending champions Ireland.
It does not get any easier either. Italy then travel to Twickenham to face a resurgent England under the stewardship of Eddie Jones. In the fifth and final round of fixtures, Italy have a home tie against France.
Looking at the squad, O’Shea has placed his trust in representatives from Pro-14 side Benetton, with 18 players being selected from the team based in Treviso. Italy’s chances have been bolstered by returning forward Maxime Mbanda, and also the experience of Sergio Parisse and Leonardo Ghiraldini should bode well moving forward.
But some absentees would have frustrated the Italy head coach. Gloucester’s Jake Polledri and Zebre’s Matteo Minozzi will both miss out through injury.
Synonymous with Italy’s play, is their inability to maintain the required intensity for the duration of the match. Previously, Italy have been in some great positions, sometimes winning ones, but past the 60-minute mark they show their deficiencies.
The final stages are crucial when it comes to either defending a lead or searching for a game-winning score. The heightened pressures of a Six Nations environment make the task of winning rugby matches even more challenging. This makes it imperative for this Italy squad to remain competitive right up until the final whistle. This is when you question as to whether they have the strength in depth to be able to make the required rotations without falling short at the end.
Granted, Italy are not as blessed when it comes to the resources at their disposal compared to the squads of Ireland, England and Wales, but working together as a team is a skill like no other. Where they may lack in individual ability, teamwork can drag any team over the line, and I am sure head coach Conor O’Shea will be making that the focal point in his preparation.
Italy may not be in contender discussions, but they should not need any motivations to defy the odds and lay to rest their dire Six Nations form.