Rugby World Cup: after a perfect start, things get tough for Italy against the All Blacks

After two relatively peaceful flat stages, the road will rise for the Italian team

Rugby World Cup: after a perfect start, things get tough for Italy against the All Blacks

After two relatively peaceful flat stages, the road will rise for the Italian team. If the Azzurri easily started their Rugby World Cup against Namibia (52-8), before sharply dismissing Uruguay (38-17), two exceptional passes now loom: New Zealand, d first, Friday September 29, in Lyon (9 p.m., on TF1); before France, on October 6, for the last match of Pool A.

With their two improved victories in two matches, the Transalpines face a simple equation: success in one of these two matches would give them an unprecedented place in the quarter-finals. Coming out victorious in this Friday's match against three-time world champions New Zealand would also be a gigantic feat for the Italian XV, who have never won against the All Blacks. The defeats against the men of the Pacific have always been heavy: 48 points difference on average.

The task is arduous, but the Italians say they are ready. “We are no longer an easy opponent and we disrupt all the teams that face us. We have grown a lot, and we are convinced that we can overthrow big teams,” said Tommaso Allan, who will line up at full-back against the Blacks, on Sunday. “We’re going to have to be brave and play. We will not go on the field to suffer the shortest possible defeat. We will go to try to win the match”, confirmed the New Zealand coach of the Transalpines, Kieran Crowley.

An Italian team in progress

The man who was world champion with the “Blacks” in 1987 moved to Italy in 2016, to manage the Benetton Rugby club in Treviso. At the head of the Venetian team for five years, he notably enabled it to qualify for the final stages of the Pro14 – a competition bringing together Welsh, Irish, Italian, Scottish and South African clubs – for the first time in its history. His adventure at the head of the national team begins in 2021. In two years – Kieran Crowley will hand over the reins after the World Cup to Gonzalo Quesada, the former coach of Stade Français – he has significantly improved the Italian team.

“When I arrived, we decided to restore the respect and credibility of Italian rugby. We told ourselves that if we continued to do what had been done so far, we would obtain the same results. We changed our style of play and our state of mind,” the technician recounted this week in the columns of the New Zealand Herald.

And the results, even timid, are there. On March 19, 2022, Italy notably interrupted a series of 36 consecutive defeats in the Six Nations Tournament by winning against Wales (21-22). Despite her last place in the 2023 edition of the Tournament, she managed to upset France (five-point defeat, 24-29) and even Ireland (34-20) during part of the match. The Azzurri can also count on a talented generation (Niccolo Cannone, Paolo Garbisi, Ange Capuozzo, Michele Lamaro…) and a very reliable scorer (Tommaso Allan is always 100% successful in front of the poles during this World Cup).

“A tough fight.”

From there to disrupt the New Zealand machine? Not long ago, the question would have seemed incongruous. Asking it today clearly proves the evolution of Italian rugby. “In the last two years they have improved a lot. They were one of the standout teams during the Six Nations. We expect a tough fight,” predicted Blacks coach Ian Foster.

Friday evening, the Transalpines will seek to rely on their main quality: attack, based in particular on speed in groupings. This has not escaped the notice of New Zealand strategists. “Italy had the quickest ball exits in the Six Nations, better than Ireland. They have really improved their skills, especially when it comes to passing and running lines. They occupy the defenders for long phases of play,” explained All Black defense coach Scott McLeod this week.

New Zealand comes to Lyon under pressure. Unlike their evening opponent, the All Blacks no longer have a choice: after their inaugural defeat against France, they must win to hope to see the quarter-finals. An unprecedented situation in their history. To ensure a victory, if possible improved, they recalled some notable returnees: third line Shannon Frizell, whose physical impact his team has lacked since his injury in July, center Jordie Barrett, pillar Tyrel Lomax, on the bench, and captain Sam Cane, who could start his World Cup after a back injury. As the New Zealand Herald summed it up this week: “The cavalry is back. »