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6 Nations

Italy’s World Cup Squad Depth

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Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Another year, another wooden spoon for the Italians. This is now the fourth tournament that they have gone winless, their last coming in Murrayfield back in 2015. Conor O’Shea has spoken at length about the project that Italian rugby is, and this year it is finally showing results. Kieran Crowley has coached Benetton to second place in their Pro14 conference, and while there may have been no wins, there has definite improvement internationally. They showed they are able to compete with the big boys, they can stay in games until the final whistle. The Azzurri’s biggest problem is that they have no killer instinct when in the opposition 22. The game against France was there for the taking, but so many chances went begging.

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It seems now that Conor O’Shea has found what his strongest team is, and there is depth coming in positions where there was none before. With a full deck to choose from, Italy could have a very strong team indeed in the World Cup

Full-Backs/Wing

Matteo Minozzi missed this years championship but the little full-back lit up the championship with his dazzling footwork and pace. Jayden Hayward took his spot this year; while he wasn’t as box office in attack, the Treviso full-back was defensively solid, and was always good for metres in attack. Edoardo Padovani has played most of his international rugby at full-back, and is more than comfortable on the wing.  Zebre’s Mattia Bellini has been a fixture on the left wing in Conor O’Shea’s tenure, and is one of the best wings available.

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Midfield

Michele Campagnaro is one of the best centres in Europe. Harlequins’ latest acquisition is one of those players that just seems to find space where there is none, and glides through tackles like a hot knife through butter. Injuries have meant we haven’t seen as much of Campagnaro in recent years as we would have liked, but he is a massive addition to the Italy backline when fit. Luca Morisi is a very dependable 12, and Marco Zanon looks promising.

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Halfbacks

Italy have great depth at 10. Tommy Allan is an excellent playmaker and a threat with ball in hand. Carlo Canna can kick goals from way out and is always good for a jackal turnover. Ian McKinley is as good as the other two even though he’s only got one eye. Scrum-half stocks are not as good. Tito Tebaldi had a fantastic Six Nations, but other than him, there are no real standouts.

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Back Row

Italy have a seriously good backrow heading into the World Cup. On either side of captain fantastic Sergio should be Benetton’s Sebastian Negri, and Gloucester’s Jake Polledri. Polledri made a huge difference to the Italian pack after missing the opening rounds of this years Six Nations, and is likely to be a fixture in the team for years to come. South African import Braam Steyn has been rock solid when called upon. Giovanni Licata and Renato Giammaroli are promising players that will push for a spot once Sergio Parisse has bid farewell to the Azzurri.

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Second Row

Benetton second row Federico Ruzza was one of the standout performers for Italy after this year. He came on as a subsitute against Scotland, and after impressing with some carries in the wide channels, and a try assist was fixture in the remaining matchday squads. Tight five is where Italy struggle for depth. David Sisi is a solid player as is Dean Budd, but Alessandro Zanni is nearing the end of his career, and other than that, there is no one really stepping up. Apart from Ruzza, much of these players fall into the “solid but unspectacular” category, and the same is true of the props.

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Front Row

Leonardo Ghiraldini, an Italian rugby legend has probably played his last game for his country. After an emotional exit off the Stadio Olimpico turf, a serious knee injury means he will not play at the World Cup. His loss while be felt big-time, and Luca Bigi will be the man to step up in his place. Andrea Lovotti is the incumbent loosehead, with the massive presence of Cherif Traore backing him up. Tiziano Pasquali has overtaken Simone Ferrari on the tighthead side. Italy have not got real depth in the front row, and will be praying for no injuries in that department

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Starting Team

15. Matteo Minozzi

14. Edoardo Padovani

13. Michele Campagnaro

12. Luca Morisi

11. Mattia Bellini

10. Tommy Allan

9. Tito Tebaldi

  1. Andrea Lovotti
  2. Luca Bigi
  3. Tiziano Pasquali
  4. Dave Sisi
  5. Federico Ruzza
  6. Sebastian Negri
  7. Jake Polledri
  8. Sergio Parisse

6 Nations

Schmidt applauds Irish Support.

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(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

He may have led his side out for the final time at the Aviva Stadium today, but for Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, the importance of the Rugby World Cup in Japan meant he could not get too wrapped up in the occasion.

A well-earned victory over Wales for the second weekend running provides Ireland with considerable momentum heading into their Pool A opener against Scotland on Sunday, September 22. Speaking afterwards, Schmidt’s post-match thoughts were already on that Yokohama clash.

“The focus of the World Cup is huge, so you’re immediately starting to think in terms of our next game,” he explained. “Obviously Scotland have had a couple of big wins against Georgia and a good win against France after doing similar to what we did against England, in not really being ready to go from the very start.

“That’s the nature of these pre-World Cup Test matches, where people are trialling combinations and people are at various stages of preparation. For me, it’s been good to take the emotion out of it, as emotionally connected as I am to the team and the performance to the Aviva Stadium and what it’s meant over the last 10 years.

“I was here at the first game of rugby with my kids watching an Under-20 game with the four provinces mixed into two teams. Ever since then I’ve had some really special experiences just being here and absorbing the atmosphere.

“It’s phenomenal for such an open stadium the volume of noise that gets created. We are incredibly lucky with the support that we have and that was very evident with the reception that Rory (Best) got coming off the pitch today.”

Indeed, the emotion Schmidt did allow himself in the minutes that followed this afternoon’s encounter was that of relief. Given how close the start of the Rugby World Cup is, he was pleased to see the majority of his troops coming through the game unscathed.

Cian Healy was withdrawn at half-time for a head injury assessment, and Keith Earls came off with a quad injury, but the Ireland boss was otherwise able to report a clean bill of health.

“After a game, relief is probably the primary emotion. Just because hopefully we’ve negotiated that. The boys who came off seemed in really good spirits. We’ve hopefully gotten through that unscathed. That’s always the most important thing. Then we’ve got a performance that we can be proud of, I think. The first quarter of the game we couldn’t hang onto the ball.

“I think we made 40 tackles as opposed to them having made six tackles in that early part of the game. I thought we did a really good job defensively and then we built our way into the game. I felt we dominated the last quarter. It wasn’t necessarily pretty to watch, but it was nice to get that result.”

On just his third appearance in an Ireland jersey, Schmidt felt that Jean Kleyn was ‘solid, not spectacular’. Nonetheless, he believes the Munster lock has the tools to become a key figure for Ireland in Japan, with the other second rows, including man-of-the-match James Ryan, adding their own unique flavours to the Irish pack.

“Jean’s a good man for us in the engine room. He can carry okay as well. He’s a big man. I think across the board there was a real work ethic out there today. It wasn’t flash, but it was functional. Sometimes when you’re building towards something you want functional. I think James Ryan is James Ryan really.

“He just keeps setting a bar for himself and then looking to jump a little bit higher. I thought Iain Henderson added some value and we’ve Tadhg Beirne too, so it’s going to be a good contest for those spots. They are four quite different profiles of second row. So it allows us a little flexibility in how we change up the game, during a game or from game-to-game.”

Schmidt also has a number of options in midfield as Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Chris Farrell are vying for the two starting berths. The old Connacht centre partnership of Aki and Henshaw received the nod on this occasion and repaid Schmidt’s faith with a pair of powerhouse performances.

“Those two know each other inside-out. They are good friends, they are good players together. I thought Robbie’s first carry, when he gets that ball in behind the line, Bundee knows exactly where to be and punches onto that ball really well. Instead of us just having a ruck on the edge of our 22, suddenly we’re going forward to the next ruck.

“Defensively they got to space. I do think that our midfield defence with those two was really strong as well. We’d have real confidence in all four midfielders we have, especially that they are very good defenders. They are going to compete for spots.

“Some of it is about the combinations, and the fact that Bundee and Robbie know each other well. Then Robbie and Garry Ringrose have been playing together for Leinster and they know each other well. Chris Farrell has never let us down, so there’s a mix there.”

A number of firsts have been achieved by this Ireland squad over the course of Schmidt’s coaching reign. Victories against the southern Hemisphere giants of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa spring to mind, while 2015 saw them retain the Six Nations title for the first time in 66 years.

Another milestone was ticked off the list today with Ireland’s return to form propelling them to the number one position in the World Rugby Rankings. Although he sees it a notable feat for Ireland, Schmidt still believes his native New Zealand will be the team to beat at the tournament in Japan.

“I didn’t even realise that we were (number one in the rankings) until I did an interview after the game. That’s how far away from our thoughts it’s been. It’s a label, it’s a nice label to get and it’s a nice…first time that we’ve been in that position.

“We have been lucky enough to tick a few firsts off with this group in the last six years. But that label is not going to be relevant to anyone. We all know who the favourites are for the Rugby World Cup, and it’s not us.”

The post Schmidt: We’re Incredibly Lucky With The Support We Have appeared first on Irish Rugby.

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6 Nations

Two Uncapped Players In Ireland Squad For Italy Match

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There are two uncapped players included in the Ireland match day squad for the opening game of the Guinness Series against Italy on Saturday.

Munster’s Jean Kleyn will make his Ireland debut in the second row alongside Devin Toner in a new look Ireland side captained by Rhys Ruddock.

Ruddock is joined in the back row by Jordi Murphy and Tommy O’Donnell, who won the last of his 12 caps against Scotland in 2016.

Jack McGrath, Rob Herring and Andrew Porter are named in the front row.

Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery fill the half back positions with Chris Farrell and Garry Ringrose named in the centre.

Jordan Larmour is at fullback with Andrew Conway and David Kearney on the wings.

The uncapped Mike Haley is included in the replacements. He is joined by Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne, Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty.

The match will be live on RTE and Channel 4.

Ireland Team & Replacements (v Italy, Guinness Series 2019, Saturday, August 10, Aviva Stadium, 2pm)

Player/Club/Province/Caps
15. Jordan Larmour (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 13 caps
14. Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster) 12 caps caps
13. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 20 caps
12. Chris Farrell (Young Munster/Munster) 5 caps
11. Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster) 17
10. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Munster) 18 caps
9. Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) 10 caps

1. Jack McGrath (St Marys College/Leinster) 54 caps
2. Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 7 caps
3. Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 14 caps
4. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 64 caps
5. Jean Kleyn (Munster) 0 caps
6. Rhys Ruddock (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 21 caps Captain
7. Tommy O’Donnell (UL Bohemians/Munster) 12 caps
8. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Ulster) 27 caps

Replacements
16. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster) 14 caps
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 88 caps
18. John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 18 caps
19. Iain Henderson (Queens University/Ulster) 44 caps
20. Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster) 5 caps
21. Kieran Marmion (Galwegians/Connacht) 25 caps
22. Jack Carty (Buccaneers/Connacht) 3 caps
23. Mike Haley (Munster) 0 caps

The post Two Uncapped Players In Ireland Squad For Italy Match appeared first on Irish Rugby.

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6 Nations

Alun Wyn Jones Announces Future Plans

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones has confirmed his long-awaited decision for the future

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Alun Wyn Jones has announced that he has signed a contract extension with both the Welsh Rugby Union and the Ospreys until June 2021.

The second-row, who had been rumoured to be heading overseas come the end of the season has committed his future to his hometown region and confirmed the news on social media.

“I have some news I would like to share with you. I’m happy to announce that I have signed a contract extension to June 2021 with the Welsh Rugby Union and the Ospreys and will be playing at the Liberty Stadium for the foreseeable future,” he said.

The Welsh captain who has gone on to make 134 caps at test level (125 with Wales and 9 for the British & Irish Lions), admitted he considered all options available to him but decided to stay put.

“After serious consideration and taking stock of all options, it is the right decision for my career at this point in time, along with my personal ambitions on and off the field, my welfare, and needs of my family. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to tell you directly, in particular to the Ospreys supporters and all those who have supported me during my career to date. Thanks, Alun Wyn,” he added.

Jones is set to head to Switzerland this week for Wales’ first overseas training camp ahead of the Rugby World Cup, and WRU CEO Martyn Phillips is delighted that Jones will be remaining in the country after the tournament in Japan.

“This announcement is a huge boost for Welsh rugby. Alun Wyn is hugely respected across the game and I’m delighted he has committed his future here in Wales and that he will be continuing to play for his hometown region. It is a boost for the game both on and off the field and I’m sure the news will delight both Wales and Ospreys supporters alike as he continues to inspire the next generation. The extension allows the WRU and the Ospreys to continue working together with Alun Wyn to ensure he has the very best of environments to thrive in,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ospreys head coach Allen Clarke is also excited to have the clubs most capped player (238 caps) still in his squad and believes it is brilliant news for everyone in the region.

“Today’s announcement is fantastic news for us as a club and all Ospreys and Wales supporters. Alun Wyn is a man I have the upmost respect for; he is greatly admired not just because of what he has achieved and what he represents as a local boy playing for his home region and country but importantly because of the ambition and level of performance he consistently displays. He’s a tremendous individual and a winner with a deep hunger for the Ospreys to be successful on and off the field. Alun Wyn has spent his entire career with the Ospreys and I expect him to continue his legacy as a player and well beyond his playing days,” he said.

Jones’ announcement will be a massive boost for all Welsh Rugby supporters and will also be a motivation for the national team heading into the World Cup later this year as they look to add more silverware to their Six Nations Grand Slam from earlier in the year.

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