The much-anticipated clashes with three-time winners New Zealand and hosts France will linger long in the minds of Italian players and fans, for all the wrong reasons. Spirits were high on the back of an encouraging 2023 Six Nations campaign, a general upward curve throughout head coach Kieran Crowley’s two-year reign and opening victories against Namibia and Uruguay. As it was, a failure to compete physically and a comprehensive loss of the breakdown battle left the floodgates open against the two Pool A heavyweights.
Try of the tournament
Fan favourite Ange Capuozzo’s effort against New Zealand was a typically brilliant finish and brought the loudest roar of the evening from the Lyon crowd in an otherwise cheerless display.
Quote that said it all
"We are where everyone expected us to be, we finished third in the table. We could have played a different game and probably kept the score closer but that's not a game that would have given us an opportunity to win.” Head coach Kieran Crowley.
Man of the moment
Amid the gloom, Tommaso Allan shone bright. Sixteen times the man whose mum also represented Italy stepped up to the kicking tee and 16 times he sent the ball straight through the posts. "It's good,” Allan said of his 100 per cent success rate, before adding with a grimace, “But I'd give it up for a place in the quarters, obviously."
One for the future
The 22-year-old Lorenzo Cannone – a permanent fixture in the side since making his debut in 2022 - is at the heart of everything that prompted Crowley to point out: “I’ve said before, I’d like to take this team forward. I think the next World Cup is our cycle… we’ll get to the next tournament, and a lot of these players will have 60, 70 caps.”
From the Touchline
Italy turned over multiple stones in an attempt to compete against two of the favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup on 28 October.
First, the Italians attempted to connect with the locals at their Bourgoin-Jallieu base by holding regular open training sessions. As a result, hundreds of enthusiastic French school children blasting out the unofficial Italy rugby anthem L’Italiano became a regular and much-loved occurrence. Then, after defeat to the All Blacks, Crowley invited all of his players to write down their internal feelings and then burn them together in a ceremonial fire.
Ruck speed, ruck speed, ruck speed. Before every game Italy’s opponents mentioned the team’s enviable ability to get the ball away from contact. But knowing about it and being able to stop it proved two different things. The Azzurri went into their final match versus France with the tournament’s fastest average ruck speed of 3.13 seconds, and even amid the wreckage of a 60-7 defeat, managed to get the ball out and away quicker than the home side.
The core of a vibrant, young, attacking team is there, and they should learn plenty from their bruising experiences in France. Speed, skills and X-factor brilliance – not to mention flawless place kicking – are all in place. If Gonzalo Quesada, the renowned former Stade Francais coach, can add some power and rugby know-how, this team could fulfil Crowley’s predictions and go far in four years’ time.