Preview: Italy v Australia
Italy are cautiously optimistic, hoping for another big scalp. Australia are desperate for redemption.
Italy are cautiously optimistic, hoping of claiming another big scalp. Australia are desperate for redemption.
In a year in which the Azzurri achieved their highest ever Six Nations finish, fourth, they will be hoping to add the Wallabies to their list of 2013 conquests - which include Ireland and France.
Despite his team's earlier successes, Italian coach Jacques Brunel said he would not be taking the wobbly Wallabies for granted.
However, Italy are determined to secure an historic first win over Australia when the sides meet in Turin on Saturday.
In contrast the Wallabies are looking to find some positives in a miserable year in which new coach Ewen McKenzie has managed just two wins in eight starts - both against lowly Argentina - since displacing Robbie Deans.
After opening their year-end campaign with a loss in a desperately poor performance against England last week, McKenzie said Australia would be determined to rebound against an impressive Italian side.
Victory would also continue Australia's unbeaten record against Italy, which was extended to 15 games last year following a tight 22-19 victory in Florence.
"There is pressure every week, but at the moment we are in the business of winning the next game. Italy is our next opportunity," McKenzie said.
"We've never had an easy game here in Italy and even last year they had a chance to tie the game after the final siren.
"There wouldn't be anyone in the Six Nations who would say coming here and winning is easy.
"They grow an extra leg playing at home and we recognise that going into the match."
Australia's hopes for a Grand Slam of (wins against all four Home Unions) on their end-of-season tour of Europe were kept in check at Twickenham last week when England rallied from a 6-13 half-time deficit to win 20-13.
Italy made no major changes to their team ahead of their first November Test, apart from Luca Morisi's inclusion at outside centre in place of Gonzalo Canale, who is out injured.
Going on results alone, it is the Wallabies worst period since the game went professional in 1996 and Australia expect a battle against Italy's reputedly strong scrum, one of the tourists' weak points.
However Brunel, who as the former coach of Perpignan came up against McKenzie while the Australian was coach of fellow Top 14 side Stade Francais, is refusing to get carried away.
"Australia are one of the top four teams in the world," Brunel told reporters Thursday.
"You can't say it's the best time to be meeting Australia. I'm sure that after last week's defeat, which to me was quite unlucky, they will bring a lot of intensity and rhythm into this match."
No.8 Sergio Parisse will captain the Azzurri while Australian-born Luke McLean starts at fullback because first-choice Andrea Masi is sidelined through injury.
McLean said Italy would hope to carry the confidence gleaned from this year's Six Nations campaign to Turin's Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
But he also rejected suggestions it is now or never if the Azzurri want to collect another major scalp.
"Since last season our confidence has really grown," McLean told AFP, highlighting the wins over France and Ireland and losing to England by just seven points.
"It's those performances that give you confidence but we also realise that confidence can be taken away quite quickly."
McLean, however, believes Australia will be fired up.
"Sometimes it's easier when they come off wins, when they're a little over-confident," he added.
"I think they backs have their backs to the wall and there's only one way they can go, and that is forward.
"The last couple of games they have played reasonably well. They finished the rugby championships with a great victory over Argentina, and last weekend they were quite unlucky, for whatever reasons, to come away with the win in London.
"I think [criticism of] their performances have been a little bit over-exaggerated."
Players to watch:
For Italy: Flyhalf has been a problem area for the Azzurri for years and Alberto Di Bernardo will be under the spotlight given his failure to convince in previous outings. Sergio Parisse is always worth the entry fee and one of the few No.8s who can actually rival New Zealand's Kieran Read for the title as the best in this position. Martin Castrogiovanni is the Italian rock star, but he has the game to match the image.
For Australia: Israel Folau is currently the Wallabies' most potent attacking weapon. Quade Cooper and Will Genia will be hoping to regain the magic that once made them the Aussie gamebreakers, while Ben Mowen will have to show a bit more enthusiasm and show he has some substance as a player and leader. There will also be a strong focus on the front row of Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore and James Slipper.
Head to head: You can't look at any match involving the Australian team without drawing comparisons between the front row - Martin Castrogiovanni, Davide Giazzon and Michele Rizzo (Italy) versus Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore and James Slipper. If there is an area where the Wallabies have (or should have) a real advantage over the home team it is in the halfback positions - Alberto Di Bernardo and Edoardo Gori (Italy) versus Quade Cooper and Will Genia (Australia).
2012: Australia won 22-19, Bologna
2011: Australia won 32- 6, Albany (World Cup pool match)
2010: Australia won 32-14, Florence
2009: Australia won 34-12, Melbourne
2009: Australia won 31-8, Canberra
2008: Australia won 30-20, Padua
2006: Australia won 25-18, Rome
2005: Australia won 69-21, Melbourne
2002: Australia won 34-3, Genoa
1996: Australia won 40-18, Padua
Prediction: Australia may be at a low ebb at the moment and have not beaten a team of note (bar the winning the second Test against the B&I Lions in a 1-2 series loss), but against teams that are just outside the top echelon - such as Italy - they still have enough class to pull of a good win. We expect Australia to have bounce back and win by between 10 and 15 points.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Tommaso Benevenuti, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Alberto Di Bernardo, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Antonio Pavanello, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Davide Giazzon, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Quintin Geldenhuys, 20 Joshua Furno, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Tommaso Iannone.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Rob Simmons, 5 James Horwill, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Dave Dennis, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nic White, 22 Christian Leali'ifano, 23 Joe Tomane.
Date: Saturday, November 9
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Turin
Kick-off: 15.00 (14.00 GMT; 01.00, Sunday, November 10 AEDT)
Expected weather: Some clouds but little chance of Friday's rain still being around by Saturday afternoon. Wind will be generally light. High of 19°C and a low of 10°C
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), John Lacey (Ireland)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
AFP & rugby365