There can be no doubt whatsoever that Kiwi Kieran Crowley, Italy’s new head coach, has the toughest job in international rugby.
Italy have not won a game in the Six Nations since they beat Scotland at Murrayfield by 22-19 back in 2015. So as Crowley starts his first campaign in charge in Paris on Sunday against the powerful French, regarded by many as the favourites, he won’t need reminding that his team have suffered 32 successive defeats in the competition.
Crowley, 60, coached Italy’s top side, Benetton, from 2016 until last summer when he was appointed head coach; before then the former All Black, capped 19 times in all Tests from 1985-91, had coached in New Zealand and Canada.
With only two games in Rome against England followed by Scotland in March, Italy have several mountain ranges to climb, so it would seem inevitable they will finish bottom again for the 17th time since they joined the Six Nations in 2000.
In fact, Italy have won just 12 games, so don’t be surprised if questions are once again asked about whether it’s right for the Italians to continue participating.
But with no relegation from the Six Nations, Italy will carry on playing.
Italian Players Worth Watching at the 2022 Tournament
It would be entirely wrong to suggest that Italy don’t have any players of any merit, the problem is that collectively Italy can’t perform to the standards required, and when you think of Italian sport, the passion for football is fanatical, so rugby is not an enthusiasm that is widely shared.
New skipper and flanker Michele Lamaro is highly competitive and shows plenty of fight, winger Monty Ioane is a thrilling player, scrum half Stephen Varney can be handful and fly half Paolo Garbisi is a class act in open play and is an accurate goal kicker.
Italy have another decent winger in Pierre Bruno who scored two tries in the autumn international win against Uruguay, beaten 17-10.
If Italy play to Bruno’s strengths by making sure he receives some ball, their competitiveness will improve. Another forward who has the ability to take on the opposition is Federico Ruzza.
Traditionally, Italy have a strong set of forwards, but rarely achieve control or dominance for the entire 80 minutes in a Test, so against the Irish and the French, in particular, they may well suffer heavy defeats.
Crowley’s period as head coach at Benetton has given him a thorough understanding of Italian rugby and its politics and has developed a natural feel for the country which he loves.
His squad relies heavily on Benetton players with whom Crowley is familiar and has developed.
Some predict that this year’s Six Nations is going to be the closest for years and of the highest quality, so, hopefully, Italy will somehow play their part, and while they’re expected to lose in Paris, for the sake of the competition, let’s hope they fight for 80 minutes.
Italy’s Fixtures in the Six Nations
- Sunday Feb 6th: v France in Paris
- Sunday Feb 13th: v England in Rome
- Sunday Feb 27th: v Ireland in Dublin
- Saturday March 12th: v Scotland in Rome
- Saturday March 19th: v Wales in Cardiff
- Get 16/1 on Italy to finish 5th