Conor O'Shea - Italy

Italy can shock the world, warns Conor O’Shea

Italy are gunning for South Africa and are happy to advertise the fact in advance.

That match falls very nicely in their schedule, coming after opening matches against Canada and Namibia, which Italy should win.

The Italians beat the Boks in 2016 so there is no mental hang-up and they will enjoy a decent eight-day preparation for the match at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa in Fukuroi.

They must bring all their passion to bear and play at a new level – as was the case with Japan four years ago.

Head coach Conor O’Shea has confirmed that Sergio Parisse, Alessandro Zanni and Leonardo Ghiraldini will all be retiring from Test rugby after the tournament.

“Leo, together with Parisse and Zanni, are playing the last matches in the Italy shirt of their extraordinary careers,” explained O’Shea. “We want to make their dreams come true and we have the cards to be able to succeed.”

Sergio Parisse - Italy
Perfect send-off: Italy stalwart Sergio Parisse will retire from international rugby after Japan, and was part of the team which beat the Springboks in 2016. Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Matteo Minozzi, a Billy Whizz in the back three who is heading for Wasps, and athletic back-five operator Federico Ruzza offer cause for optimism. Then there is the old Treviso firm of Michele Campagnaro and Luca Morisi reunited at centre six years after they first started to make a splash.

Since then they have endured three ACL operations between them and sundry other surgeries but they are finally back in full working order.

Tomasso Allen has come of age at fly-half, former England U20 captain Callum Braley – Italian grandfather – is a rock solid recruit to understudy the pugnacious Tito Tebaldi at nine, while Jayden Hayward was impressive at full-back in the latest defeat to England.

Jake Polledri and Seb Negri, the old Hartbury College combo, can hold their own and possibly more against most Test back-rowers and Polledri has the running power to shine on the biggest stage.

Factor in the streetwise skills of Dean Budd and Braam Steyn and that pumped trio of legends and Italy must believe they have an historic win in them.

O’Shea says: “We play Namibia and Canada and then everybody will write us off.

“But if we play with our best team, and with the sort of intensity we played with against England strange things may happen.

“You need a bit of luck but we have saved up a fair bit of that in the matches we have played in the last year or so. We will go there to win our first two and then hopefully shock somebody.”

Italy’s 2019 Rugby World Cup fixtures

22 September
Italy v Namibia
Hanazono Rugby Stadium

26 September
Italy v Canada
Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium

4 October
Italy v South Africa
Shizuoka Stadium

12 October
Italy v New Zealand
City of Toyota Stadium

Backs: Tommaso Allan, Mattia Bellini, Tommaso Benvenuti, Giulio Bisegni, Callum Braley, Michele Campagnaro, Carlo Canna, Jayden Hayward, Matteo Minozzi, Luca Morisi, Edoardo Padovani, Guglielmo Palazzani, Tito Tebaldi

Forwards: Luca Bigi, Dean Budd, Oliviero Fabiani, Simone Ferrari, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Andrea Lovotti, Maxime Mbanda, Sebastian Negri, Sergio Parisse (capt), Tiziano Pasquali, Jake Polledri, Nicola Quaglio, Marco Riccioni, Federico Ruzza, David Sisi, Abraham Steyn, Federico Zani, Alessandro Zanni

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