Friday, September 29th was not a great night for an Italian side who have been on the up over the past twenty-four months.
A 96 – 17 drubbing at the hands of a rampant All Blacks side was certainly the worst performance of the Kieran Crowley era to date.
Having picked up historic wins in recent times, namely their victory in Cardiff over Wales during the 2022 Six Nations, which was backed up months later by a victory over the Wallabies in Florence. The wheels of change seemed to be turning for an Italian side that had for the past decade been in the doldrums.
Buoyed by a host of talented youngsters, the Azzuri had been reignited and entered the 2023 Rugby World Cup with renewed confidence that they could spring an upset.
To do so, they would need to beat one or both of New Zealand and France in what would be the country’s biggest-ever victory.
Whilst the match with New Zealand has been and gone in a rather disappointing fashion, all is not lost for the Italians, who will once again take to the pitch in Lyon knowing that a historic moment is within touching distance.
By no means will a victory over France be easy, nor in honesty will it be expected. Yet, with nothing to lose and everything to gain, the Azzuri will take comfort in facing a familiar foe who they oh so nearly toppled just months ago in the Six Nations.
Reflecting on that fixture during his post-match interviews, Italian fullback Tommaso Allan said of the upcoming fixture.
“We just focus on ourselves and our preparation for next week, and it’s a real opportunity. It’s not finished for us yet. That’s what’s going to keep us going, knowing that we still have a chance.
“I know we are going to have to be smarter with how we exit. Because against France in the Six Nations, we were playing from our five-meter line, and that’s how they scored most of their tries from our mistakes in our exit zone so hopefully we can change that and be more composed.
Reflecting on what went wrong against the All Blacks, Allan said that the result was a combination of their own ill-discipline and allowing the Kiwis too much time and space.
“They were attacking well, they were being very direct at the start and then whenever they had an advantage, they would play it wide, and if you let them play with no pressure, they are probably the best in the world at playing the space.
“We gave away way too many penalties today, and if you do that against a team like New Zealand, you are going to find yourself defending a five-meter line-out or just letting them play whatever they see, so that was tough,” Allan concluded.
Echoing his teammate’s sentiments, captain Michele Lamaro had a front-row seat to the All Blacks’ power to the set piece.
“Before the game, obviously, we didn’t want to chase them because it would have been a really tough day. I think we started with that mentality to put everything we had on the field.
“But then, obviously, a few things didn’t go our way, and they were pretty bloody good at putting us under pressure and making the right choice at the right moment.
“Obviously, our scrum didn’t go well, our line-out didn’t go well, so lots of things we can do better, especially the fundamentals. If you don’t do the fundamentals well against those sorts of teams, you will get nothing.”
Finally, Lamaro’s backrow colleague Sebastian Negri said despite the pain the team felt, there were learnings his team could take into the French class. “Listen, I think we have just got to learn from this and stick together.”
“It’s very tough at the moment, (we are) disappointed, frustrated, but I know what we are capable of, we know what we are capable of.”
“So yeah, we will stick together and get excited for next week as we know it is a big opportunity.”
“You are judged on results at the end of the day. But this group of young players will learn from games like these. we have got to get put to the test, but it is important to stick together and not reflect on it too much and look ahead to France.”
The Italians will take to the Groupama Stadium on Friday evening, knowing that if they are to turn the tables on the World Cup hosts, a place in the quarterfinals will be theirs.
Thus, with history beckoning, could the Italians spring arguably the biggest upset in Rugby World Cup history? Allan would go as far as to say a victory is guaranteed, but there was quiet confidence as he said, “I am not saying we are going to beat them, but we have a chance, so that we will stick to that. Give us hope and just carry on this week with that focus in mind.”