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Where to start with Italy?
Everyone knows they will never really challenge for the title. Finishing 4th for Italy would be like winning the Grand Slam.
That said, let’s get into it. Below are their predicted fixtures.
Rewind one year. Italian clubs are usually the minnows in the Pro14. That said, Benetton had a magnificent 2018/19 season and finished, rather remarkably, just 6 points adrift of second-placed Ulster. This was very good news for the national team going to Japan – and they went full of confidence, despite being placed in what was widely-regarded as the pool of death.
They impressed in their first few games. Their back row was on fire, with the likes of Polledri and Negri touching down left right and centre. All was going well until they were torn apart by South Africa.
Eventually, their campaign came to a disappointing and anti-climatic end, with the Italians’ all-or-nothing contest with the All Blacks called off due to the typhoon. Head coach Conor O’Shea promptly stepped down after the World Cup.
His replacement, interim coach Franco Smith, will have that same squad at his disposal. We should expect more of this forward-centric game for this tournament and a few more rucks than have happened in previous years under O’Shea.
The biggest story about this 6 Nations for Italy, however, comes down to one man: Sergio Parisse. He has been a truly remarkable player and servant for his country. He will be sorely missed, but not before he makes his final goodbye. The back-row gladiator does not feature in the initial squad, but will be included, rather poetically, for either or both of the games in Rome, against Scotland and England.
Sadly, now we must turn to the Algorithm’s prediction: Italy have a 91% chance of finishing 6th.
But, as rugby fans, it is clear that we can all agree on one thing: to hope that Italy can give him the send off that he deserves.