Six Nations Preview: Italy

Head Coach: Conor O’Shea

Stadium: Stadio Olimpico (Capacity: 70,634)

Captain: Sergio Parisse

IRB World Ranking: 13th

Last Season: 6th

Prediction: 6th

Italy are looking like a huge improvement on the side that got dismantled by Wales, Ireland and England last year.

Italy managed a historic first ever win against the Springboks in November and they will look to carry that form through to the Six Nations, especially with France and Wales not looking the sides they were last year.

They also suffered a narrow loss to Tonga in Padua and a thrashing by New Zealand in Rome. This is another problem for the Italians they struggle to constantly get the numbers to fill their big stadiums with only one of their games being played in Rome over the autumn period.

O’Shea is putting together the team that have for long time been the growing world rugby power but are still yet to materialise as a genuine Six Nations contender.

As always Sergio Parisse looks to be the key man four weeks out from the opening game for the Azzuri.

Italy's captain Sergio Parisse (L) runs

Parisse in action for Italy.

In the backs Exeter centre, Michele Campagnaro is a standout name, his upper body strength and leg power make him a real force going forward in the midfield and with dangerous runners outside him, Italy are a real threat.

Italy have three home games this year and they face arguably two of the weaker teams at home in Wales and France. France always find it tough in Rome and Wales will not be as confident as they have been in recent years. The trips to London and Edinburgh will be tough though and I expect Ireland to beat the Italians comfortably.

O’Shea will believe his team can win games and they can, home ties will be massively important to Italy and should they get at least one win in their opening two games we can expect a big tournament from the Italians.

Fixtures

v Wales, Stadio Olimpico, 14:00, Sunday 5th February

v Ireland, Stadio Olimpico, 14:25, Saturday 11th February

v England, Twickenham Stadium, 15:00, Sunday 26th February

v France, Stadio Olimpico, 13:30, Saturday 11th March

v Scotland, BT Murrayfield, 12:30, Saturday 18th March

My Italy XV

1 Sami Panico (Calvisano) 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (Toulouse) 3 Lorenzo Cittadini (Bayonne) 4 Marco Fuser (Treviso) 5 Quintin Geldenhuys (Zebre) 6 Franceso Minto (Treviso) 7 Simone Favaro (Glasgow) 8 Sergio Parisse (Captain, SFP)

9 Edoardo Gori (Treviso) 10 Carlo Canna (Zebre) 11 Giovanbattista Venditti (Newcastle) 12 Luke McLean (Treviso) 13 Michele Campagnaro (Exeter) 14 Giulio Bisegni (Zebre) 15 Edoardo Padovani (Zebre)

What’s Wrong With Rafa?

On Sunday the French Open came to an epic conclusion as Swiss player Stanislas Wawrinka defeated the undisputed form player this season Serb Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros. Paris had previously been a stronghold for the supposed ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal.

Wawrinka after his French Open win.

Wawrinka after his French Open win.

The Spaniard has recently suffered a dip in form which has seen the 9 times French Open champion slip to 10th in the world rankings. This year Nadal suffered shock quarter-final defeats in both Paris and Rome following his loss to Andy Murray in Madrid. This is the lowest ranking Nadal has slumped to since 2005 although Nadal has failed to progress well in grass in recent years suffering shock defeats at Wimbledon over the past couple of seasons.

Nadal’s only win this year came in Argentina as he beat Juan Monaco in the final in Buenos Aires a tournament that failed to feature any other top level player. The Spanish former number 1 (now behind David Ferrer) has failed to find the form that he was blessed with from 2008 to 2010 in which time he won the French Open twice, Wimbledon twice, the US Open once, the Australia Open once, the ATP Tour World Finals once and bagged himself a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, with Nadal having only won at one Grand Slam event since that period it seems his grasp on the top four may be slipping.

Rafa Nadal in action against Novak Djokovic in the French Open.

Rafa Nadal in action against Novak Djokovic in the French Open.

Wawrinka may take Nadal’s place in the top 4 which over a number of years has been a fairly forgone conclusion with Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal dominating men’s tennis. But this recent surge from Wawrinka who is at the moment occupying 4th may threaten the Spaniard’s top 4 status which has been a key feature if the ATP tour since his first Grand Slam win in 2005 at Roland Garros.

Wawrinka seems to have broken into that exclusive party which held the top 4 which have for years been untouchable and been winning everything worth winning from the Grand Slams to the Olympic Games the top 4 have had their names carved into history as they dispatched of all opponents. The 2014 Australian Open changed all that as Wawrinka stormed to victory and his recent win in Paris will have only backed up the idea that Wawrinka is developing into a player of that top 4 calibre and with Wimbledon on the horizon this year could be the year we see both the demise of Spain’s great Nadal and the Swiss rising of Wawrinka.

Nadal leaves the court after his quarter-final loss to Djokovic in Paris.

Nadal leaves the court after his quarter-final loss to Djokovic in Paris.

With this in mind Wimbledon could well show us which players will dominate the courts around the globe for the foreseeable future and if we will ever again see Nadal lift a trophy at a major championship.

Current Men’s Rankings:
1st Novak Djokovic, Serbia
2nd Roger Federer, Switzerland
3rd Andy Murray, Great Britain
4th Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland
5th Kei Nishikori, Japan
6th Tomas Berdych, Czech Republic
7th David Ferrer, Spain
8th Miles Raonic, Canada
9th Marin Cilic, Croatia
10th Rafael Nadal, Spain