Off the back of Italy’s worst ever Six Nations campaign, they have three home games to try and end their losing run in the competition.
Italy have lost their last seven Six Nations games, and are reeling from a tournament that saw them concede 224 points, a Championship record.
Their domestic sides are having disastrous seasons as well. The two Italian sides have managed just three wins in the 24 games they have played in the Pro 12 together and have just two wins from their ten European games.
It’s a poor record, and whilst it appeared their international team had restored some order with a fantastic win over South Africa, that was sandwiched in between a 68-10 hammering by a second-string New Zealand team and a first ever defeat to Tonga.
Italy have brought in Conor O’Shea, who will likely add some dynamism to their style of play, and provide much needed motivation.
He also has good backs to work with, and will be assisted by Mike Catt in that department. They also have a decent schedule with the home games and may back themselves to nick a victory.
Italy’s defence has been a serious problem for them over the last three years. They have conceded 69 tries in their last three Championships. Compare that to Ireland, who have conceded 16 and you can see there’s a problem.
As well as this, their pack is the weakest it’s been in years. It is normally something they build their team around, and was essential in them beating Scotland in 2015 and Ireland 2013.
The Key Men
Sergio Parisse is not in the best form he’s ever been in, but has often produced Man Of The Match displays when it matters.
They will also need Michele Campagnaro to show some of the form that saw him run in two tries in Cardiff in 2014.
The Difference Between Success And Failure
Goal-kicking and injuries.
If Italy can’t kick their goals, they will struggle to challenge any of their opposition.
If injuries creep in, like they did last year, it will get worse and worse as things go on. But if they are able to kick their goals and can avoid injuries, they could well be dangerous throughout.
Why Italy Will Finish Last And The Implications Of This
Italy will really struggle to win a game. They will not be able to target the Scotland game, as the Scots have improved immensely, whilst their home opposition just seem too good at the moment.
O’Shea has a lot of work to do, but they are at the start of a building process, and by 2019 they might well back themselves to claim some victories.
People will ask more questions about relegation and promotion if they come last, as I’ve mentioned in a previous article. But O’Shea will be prepared for that. A win in this year’s Championship would be a huge bonus.
Nick Powell, Pundit Arena