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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

World Rugby Gives Deadline for Nations Championship

World Rugby have given the 10 unions from the Six Nations and Rugby Championship a final deadline to decide on the Nations Championship

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World Rugby have confirmed that global rugby chiefs will have until Friday to decide whether or not the Nations Championship plans will be backed

The governing body has given the unions of the Six Nations and Rugby Championship nations until the closing of business on Friday of this week to provide a yes or no answer towards their new plans.

For their plans to be progressed World Rugby needs a unanimous decision from the 10 unions.

If that is to happen, they plan to launch their new format in 2022, with winners of the Six Nations and an expanded six-team Rugby Championship going head to head.

The final proposals of the Nations Championship will have to be passed by a vote of the full World Rugby council, however none of this will go ahead unless there is backing from the 10 nations.

Proposals have included creating two-tier tournaments for the Six Nations and Rugby Championship which would include the possibility of relegation or promotion.

A format which Six Nations unions appear to dislike.

As well as this there is the issue of the Pacific Islands, who believe that the creation of such tournaments would mean that they would be less likely to face the top nations in November and therefore be unable to develop as they currently are.

Whatever is to happen will become clearer in the next couple of days and it could be the start of a new era for international rugby.

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6 Nations

Welsh Warrior to Play Trade Outside Wales Post-World Cup?

One of Wales’ finest players may make a move away from the country after the World Cup

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(Photo credit PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Image)

Alun Wyn Jones’ future with the Ospreys is in doubt after his duel contract with the Welsh Rugby Union and the Ospreys runs out at the end of the season.

The Welsh captain has spent his entire career with the Ospreys, but fans expect and are even encouraging the lock to seek a move elsewhere after Shane Williams said his future needed to be sorted.

Jones has previously turned down the chance to move abroad for a better contract, instead remaining in Wales and being a loyal servant to both his country and club.

Having made 125 caps for Wales, their Grand Slam winning captain would be eligible to continue playing for the country if he did move as he more than doubles the required 60-caps for overseas-based players.

Many are already speculating that Jones will be the British & Irish Lions captain for the 2021 tour of South Africa, but some fear a move abroad would prevent Warren Gatland from picking him.

Fans seem to think that Jones deserves to earn more overseas in the twilight of his career and set himself up for a more stable future come the end of his glittering career.

A move to England or France would be most likely with Harlequins fans calling on the club to make a move for Jones after losing Aussie James Horwill this season.

Another possibility for the 33-year-old could be a big-money move to Japan. Either way most of the clubs in Europe or Japan can offer Jones a significant salary rise which he could be tempted by.

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6 Nations

Ireland Legend Signs Contract Extension

One of Ireland’s most decorated players has put pen to paper on a new contract

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The IRFU have confirmed that full-back Rob Kearney has agreed a nine-month extension to remain with Ireland and Leinster

There had been much speculation after Leinster head coach announced a list of contract renewals last week and Kearney’s name was missing however, all has been sorted and he will stay at Leinster for at least one more season.

Kearney is delighted to have been able to re-sign and admits he sees no reason to stop playing in the near future.

“I just played in two finals. I feel as if I am still playing pretty well. The coaches obviously feel that too. I fully love what I am doing. I am living a dream since I was a kid of five years of age. Why stop? The body is still good, the mind is still good. I’m still loving what I’m doing, I’m getting picked. I don’t see any reason why I should stop,” he said.

Next season will be Kearney’s 15th as a professional and although he considered moves abroad, he believes that he would have been taking a huge risk.

“So, all of a sudden if you do go somewhere else and then you are asking your body to train-play, train-play, you are taking a risk with it. You look at some of the games that the Premiership guys play and the French – they play a lot. We do get very well looked after here,” he added.

The 33-year-old picked up a fifth PRO 14 medal with Leinster on Saturday to add to his collection and said that medals keep him going but that the comradery within the squad is a massive part of what keeps him going.

“Every time you have one, you don’t want to be anywhere else in the world. You have worked so hard for a whole year, you’ve come through thick and thin and we have lifted another trophy together. A group of 57 players contributed to that and you just feel very lucky to be part of it,” he finished.

Along with his PRO 14 medals Kearney has claimed four Champions Cups and a Challenge Cup with the province in 209 appearances, while in 90 caps for Ireland he has won two Grand Slams and two further Six Nations crowns and featuring on two British & Irish Lions tours.

With all that in mind, IRFU performance director David Nucifora is happy to have such a decorated player remain in the country.

“Rob has contributed a huge amount to Irish rugby and has performed at a high level again this year for Ireland and Leinster. We are delighted that he will continue his career in Ireland in what will be his 15th season as a senior pro,” he said.

Kearney will hope that he can play a key role in Ireland’s bid to reach a first World Cup final later this year in Japan, before looking ahead to next season and who knows this warrior could earn himself another extension but for now let’s enjoy what he brings while he remains on our shores.

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