Italy look to build on WXV performance

2023 was a mixed year for Italy. Fifth place in the Six Nations continued a steady decline from their runner-up spot in 2019, but then they came agonisingly close to winning WXV2 where they recorded bonus point wins in all three games.So what can we expect this year?

Published by John Birch, March 19, 2024

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Italy look to build on WXV performance

Italy could not want for a tougher start when they kick off on Sunday at the Stadio Lanfranchi in Parma against England, although in some ways, getting England out of the way first will allow them to concentrate more on what is to come after.

After the opener, the fixture list gets a little more palatable, with the away game against Ireland on Easter Sunday being a “must win”. After that, the Azzurre travel to France, host Scotland and close in Cardiff against Wales.

Italian rugby writers have been calling the England game a “crash test”, with the key being how the squad copes mentally and physically: a good performance, regardless of the result will spring the forward into the rest of the Championship

France at home has always been a game that Italy have risen to, but it is the games against Ireland, Wales and Scotland they will target.

Italy’s record in Wales is impressive - they have not lost in the Principality since 2012 - but Wales have been the tournament’s fasted improving team in recent years so history might well count for little.

Ireland (in Cork) and Scotland (in Parma) seem Italy’s best chances, despite the team never having won in Ireland. Scotland, who pipped them so narrowly to WXV2, will be the other of their two home games this year, and that will be difficult, but there's a new coach, with Giovanni Raineri now firmly in charge after taking over from the long reign of Andrea Di Giandomenico, and it's a chance for him to make his mark for how he wants to play.

The FIR themselves made a few headlines in the lead up to the Championship when they allowed the centralised contracts, first issued in 2022, to lapse before confirming a new batch of 24 names last week, with the value of the contracts rising by 10%.

However, while a welcome initiative, it is typical of the way Italy always seem to be playing catch-up - they always seem a year or two behind. The contracts will keep them in the game, but they are not going to change the level of challenge they will face.

That said, Italy are often greater than the sum of their parts and the experience gained from players playing outside the country has always benefitted the squad as a whole.

This year in particular Beatrice Rigoni, Sara Tounesi, Sara Seye and Silvia Turani will be bringing into the mix the lessons they have learnt at Sale Sharks, Ealing Trailfinders and Harlequins in the English Premiership; while Ilaria Arrighetti, Valeria Fedrighi, Veronica Madia, Gaia Maris, Francesca Sgorbini will continue to benefit the squad with the their experience in France.

However it's not all about the exiles. The player who perhaps impressed most last year, Alyssia D'Incà plays her rugby at Villorba and it will be exciting to see her further development. Other home-playing names to look out for include Ostuni Minuzzi and Aura Muzzo.

The advent of women's franchises in Italy is also surely a boost in the long run with the teams running in parallel to the Benetton and Zebre Parma men’s teams.

The teams involve the best Italian players from its top-two elite leagues: 65 of them selected from 15 clubs, plus one additional overseas player. It started earlier this year so perhaps it is too soon to see its impact but the standards it will set should help the national team.

The speed of Sofia Stefan and Michela Sillari will also be something to relish and it will be interesting to see of coach Raineri continues to switch the 10 shirt between Veronica Madia and Emma Stevanin, or will keep a more settled selection this year.

Up front, Italy will miss Vittoria Vecchini's absence at the start of the tournament while Giado Franco and Ilaria Arrighetti are also likely to be absent or finding their feet- they returned to camp only last week.

Italian contract holders, 2024

Ilaria ARRIGHETTI (Stade Rennais) – 57 caps

Beatrice CAPOMAGGI (Villorba Rugby) – 12 caps

Alyssa D'INCÀ (Villorba Rugby) – 21 caps

Giordana DUCA (Valsugana Rugby Padova) – 43 caps

Valeria FEDRIGHI (Stade Toulousain) – 50 caps

Giada FRANCO (Rugby Colorno) – 32 caps

Lucia GAI (Valsugana Rugby Padova) – 95 caps

Elisa GIORDANO (Valsugana Rugby Padova) -65 caps

Francesca GRANZOTTO (Unione Rugby Capitolina) – 7 caps

Isabella LOCATELLI (Rugby Colorno) – 46 caps

Veronica MADIA (Grenoble Amazones) – 46 caps

Gaia MARIS (ASM Romagnat Rugby) – 25 caps

Aura MUZZO (Villorba Rugby) – 40 caps

Vittoria OSTUNI MINUZZI (Valsugana Rugby Padova) – 28 caps

Beatrice RIGONI (Sale Sharks) – 70 caps

Sara SEYE (Ealing Trailfinders) – 18 caps

Francesca SGORBINI (ASM Romagnat Rugby) – 20 caps

Michela SILLARI (Valsugana Rugby Padova) – 82 caps

Sofia STEFAN (Valsugana Rugby Padova) – 82 caps

Emma STEVANIN (Valsugana Rugby Padova) – 11 caps

Sara TOUNESI (Sale Sharks) – 35 caps

Silvia TURANI (Harlequins) – 30 caps

Vittoria VECCHINI (Valsugana Rugby Padova) – 22 caps

Beatrice VERONESE (Valsugana Rugby Padova) – 16 caps