Looking Back on 2022
There is an air of optimism surrounding Italian rugby after what was a largely positive 2022. The Azzurri recorded a 45% win rate last year, picking up five victories from their 11 Tests. It was their highest win rate in a calendar year since 2007 (46%, 6/13) and their highest in a non-Rugby World Cup year since 1998 when they won four of their six matches (67%). In terms of victories, it was their most in a non-RWC year in the professional era – last winning more in 1993 (P10 W8).
There were some landmark victories for Italy in 2022. Their first win of the year came in the final round of the Six Nations in dramatic fashion against Wales, a win that ended a run of 36 straight defeats in the Championship. They also recorded an emphatic win against Samoa during the Autumn Nations Series – their 49 points the most they’d scored in a match in this World Cup cycle – before defeating Australia for the first time in their Test history a week later.
Their 2022 campaign wasn’t without its disappointments, though. Before beating Wales, they lost each of their first four Six Nations matches by double-figures while they were defeated by Georgia in the summer, a match that was the Lelos’ first-ever victory over a Tier 1 nation.
2022 saw a much more expansive Italian side than in previous years. Once a team that would take the fight to the opposition through their forwards, particularly at scrum time, they’re now a side that is much more comfortable at moving the ball wide. Opta’s playmaker data shows us that last year Italy moved the ball wider than first receiver from 30% of their phases – only Japan and England had higher rates of Tier 1 teams in 2022, while only Japan moved the ball beyond the second receiver more than the Azzurri (14%).
Italy utilised a rather sensible game plan in terms of exiting their defensive zone. They recorded a solid 91% 22-exit success rate and of their successful exits 61% came via kicks. Only France – who were unbeaten last year – had a higher such rate, with both teams opting for the safest route out of their 22 rather than trying to carry the ball from deep. Ensuring they played from the right areas of the pitch has certainly helped Italy move in the right direction, both on the field of play and from an overall results perspective too.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Comparing Italy’s match averages against other Tier 1 nations in 2022 might suggest that they are one of the least effective teams in attack, but much of that fails to take into account the amount of possession the Azzurri have compared to those teams.
Italy averaged 89 carries per game last year, fewer than any other nation, and as a result, didn’t rank particularly high for key attacking metrics such as line breaks or defenders beaten.
However, looking at the number of carries it takes Italy to make a line break or beat a defender tells an entirely different story.
Italy beat 19.7 defenders per game in 2022, an average of one every 4.5 carries – a tally only Japan (4.3) and Scotland (4.4) could better last year. Their carries per line break numbers are even more impressive, averaging one every 18.5 carries – the best rate of any Tier 1 nation in 2022.
If Italy can hold on to possession for longer periods they have the creativity to unlock opposition teams on a regular basis.
That said, there are generally two reasons why a team doesn’t enjoy a lot of possession, and neither of them are positive.
One, they concede a lot of turnovers, handing possession back to the opposition too easily. Or two, they fail to win turnovers, meaning they’re unable to wrestle possession back from the opposition when defending.
Unfortunately for Italy, both points were true in 2022, with only Japan (16.4) and Ireland (15.3) conceding more turnovers than Italy’s 12.4 and only Wales (4.30) and Argentina (4.75) winning fewer turnovers than the Azzurri (4.82).
Conceding turnovers can be compounded by conceding a lot of penalties too, but this is one area of the game where Italy have vastly improved. They conceded just 9.1 penalties per game last year and were the only nation to be in single figures for infringements.
It’s a stat that head coach Kieran Crowley will be very pleased with and means that Italy don’t hand over easy attacking opportunities to their opponents as easily as they may have done in the past.
Full-back Ange Capuozzo has been the name on everyone’s lips since breaking into the Italy team in the penultimate round of last year’s Guinness Six Nations when he crossed the try line twice against Scotland on debut. He has been a revelation since then, going on to be named World Rugby’s men’s Breakthrough Player of the Year. He’s already shown himself to be a big game player too, providing vital tries and assists in huge Test matches so far.
In fact, each of his six try involvements have come in his 275 minutes of action against ‘Tier 1’ nations. That means he’s either scored or assisted a try every 46 minutes in those matches, the best rate of any player in 2022.
Capuozzo won’t be joined, however, by his regular team-mate in the back three, Monty Ioane. The physical winger is unavailable and his lack of presence on the wing will be a blow for the Azzurri, with Ioane having recorded the most line breaks (seven) of any player in the Championship last year, as well as the most dominant tackles (seven), showcasing how important his impact has been in both attack and defence.
Staying with the defensive side of the game, Italy skipper and back row player Michele Lamaro will be key to leading the defensive line in this year’s Six Nations – he made 86 tackles in last year’s edition, 16 more than the next-best player (Hamish Watson). In fact, only Jonny Gray (100 in 2018) has made more in a campaign than Lamaro, who will no doubt wrestle his way towards the top of the tackle charts again in 2023.
Italy’s Six Nations 2023 Fixtures:
5 February: Italy v France – Stadio Olimpico, Rome
12 February: England v Italy – Twickenham Stadium, London
25 February: Italy v Ireland – Stadio Olimpico, Rome
11 March: Italy v Wales – Stadio Olimpico, Rome
18 March: Scotland v Italy – Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
Italy Six Nations 2023 Squad (as of 10 Jan):
The squad has no real surprises in it, though Crowley is missing a number of injured players including number eight Toa Halafihi, hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi, flyhalf Leonardo Marin and lock David Sisi.
Fly-half Paolo Garbisi has been recalled to the Italy squad for the opening two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations as they prepare to kick off their campaign against France at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Forwards: Pietro Ceccarelli, Simone Ferrari, Danilo Fischetti, Matteo Nocera, Marco Riccioni, Luca Rizzoli, Mirco Spagnolo, Federico Zani, Luca Bigi, Marco Manfredi, Giacomo Nicotera, Niccolo Cannon, Marco Fuser, Federico Ruzza,
Andrea Zambonin, Lorenzo Cannon, Michele Lamaro, Sebastian Negri, Giovanni Pettinelli, Jake Polledri, Manuel Zuliani
Backs: Alessandro Fusco, Alessandro Garbisi, Stephen Varney, Tommaso Allan, Giacomo Da Re, Juan Ignacio Brex, Enrico Lucchin, Tommaso Menoncello, Luca Morisi, Pierre Bruno, Ange Capuozzo, Matteo Minozzi, Edoardo Padovani
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