Autumn Nations Series preview: Wallabies to defeat a brave Italy side in Florence

Autumn Nations Series: Split image with Wallaby Noah Lolesio and Italy's Paolo Garbisi Credit: Alamy
Autumn Nations Series: Split image with Wallaby Noah Lolesio and Italy's Paolo Garbisi Credit: Alamy

A confident Italy play host to a radically changed Wallabies side in this weekend’s Autumn Nations Series clash in Florence.

The hosts come off a resounding 49-17 win over Samoa that saw Italy score several stunning tries in one of their better performances under coach Kieran Crowley.

The Azzurri have made three changes that include the return of free-running sensation Ange Capuozzo, who will always be remembered for orchestrating the decisive try in Italy’s first win against Wales in Cardiff earlier this year.

The Wallabies come off a heartbreaking 30-29 loss to France last week as they were buried by a Damian Penaud try in the game’s final stages. The result in Paris means that Australia have lost four of their last five games.

Coach Dave Rennie has made a whopping 11 changes to his Wallabies starting line-up that includes debuts for Mark Nawaqanitawase and Ben Donaldson, as he looks to improve on what has been an average Test season.

It is an intriguing matchup between Italy, who is certainly on the rise under Crowley and a wobbly Wallabies side who have not found their best under Rennie’s guidance.

Where the game will be won

Significant changes in the make-up of the Wallabies side are risky as there is no guarantee that the newer combinations will fire against a settled Italian side who have begun to find their identity.

Arguably the Wallabies have the edge man for man on Italy, but the execution of fundamentals will be crucial in determining the winner. This starts with set-piece, and although the hosts gave away more scrum penalties than Australia did in their previous games, they will be quietly confident they can dominate the changed-up front-row of their opponents.

Outside of the set-piece and physical battle that is central to every game at Test level, it will be the execution of the decision-makers that will define the tie as Italian playmaker Paolo Garbisi is currently playing outstanding rugby, complete with three try assists last weekend. It will be a big challenge for Wallabies prodigy Noah Lolesio who has not seemed to gain complete trust from Rennie in big games.

Both teams possess impressive runners in broken play, and whichever team can kick well enough to control territory and prevent counter-attack opportunities will be best placed to win.

Last time they met

What they said

Australia head coach Rennie was proud of his team for their efforts in the France loss but was once again disappointed in falling short at the end.

“We talked about playing without fear and competing hard and throwing everything at them and we did that for a big chunk of the game. Disappointing outcome but proud of (the) effort,” he said.

Wallabies wing Tom Wright knows Italy will be a tricky challenge and claims his side is completely focused ahead of the Florence Test.

“The main messaging is around that we respect Italy and keep out the outside noise… around what could be perceived as an easy game for us on this tour, or the easiest,” Wright told reporters.

“It’s about making sure that we as a squad front up this week – it’s very easy to get up when you’re playing France or Ireland, the top two teams in the world, so we need to make sure we put the same emphasis on playing well and preparing the same way against Italy.”

Players to watch

The elusive Ange Capuozzo has risen in stature since his moment of brilliance in the Six Nations earlier this year, and whilst he was not missed last week against Samoa, Crowley will be delighted to have the star back. The full-back oozes X-factor and is one of the most exciting players Italy has produced in recent times. His pace off the mark, spatial awareness and ability to link up to teammates make him a dangerous prospect for the Wallabies to defend.

It is a battle within the war for Australian-born Melbourne Rebels wing Monty Ioane, who has always donned the blue of his adopted country with pride and vigour. The speedster had a game to remember against Samoa, bagging a brace and making 119 metres in his 11 carries that included seven broken tackles. Ioane is a star wing with extreme pace, a good side step and an eye for the try-line. A truly talented player who will look to get one up on his country of birth.

Lorenzo Cannone had a debut to remember last time out, scoring a try as part of a dynamic display from the number eight, who will surely be a prevalent star for the Azzurri for years to come. The Benetton back-row made 83 metres with his 13 carries last weekend and always seemed to be involved in everything good Italy produced. Technically solid, tireless and a fantastic find for Crowley.

Waratahs wing Mark Nawaqanitawase had a breakthrough season in 2022, where he shone in the Super Rugby Pacific, scoring wonderful tries along the way. The speedster is a serious try threat with a decent turn of pace and devastating finishing abilities; one of those players who always know where the touchline is. His aerial prowess and adequate kicking game add to his plethora of skills. Nawaqanitawase will fit in seamlessly at Test level and add to the growing depth at wing for the Wallabies.

Fraser McReight is rather unlucky to have not played more for the Wallabies in 2022, particularly after some fine displays in the Rugby Championship where the flank proved his worth at Test level. The Reds star is a committed defender, a livewire with ball in hand and one of those loose forwards who tend to find their way over the whitewash. Expect McReight to take his opportunity with both hands and be one of the players of the game.

Gargantuan lock Will Skelton makes his starting return to Wallaby gold after years away from Test rugby. The La Rochelle man is class and played a key role in their Champions Cup success. Skelton brings experience, superior carrying ability and a solid set piece. However, given Rennie only has three overseas picks, the lock knows he will need to perform out of his socks to seriously throw his name in the hat for next year’s World Cup. Expect a mammoth performance from the mountain of a man.

Main head-to-head

The Florence Test has many interesting matchups, but nothing better than the battle of the generals at fly-half.

Paolo Garbisi is the heartbeat of the Italian side. He is an absolute wizard who, if given the platform, can pull the strings and drive his team around the field with aplomb. Brilliant in the strike play and calculated in phase play, the playmaker is the star that will transcend Italian rugby in years to come. A complete player who had world champion Handre Pollard below him in the pecking order at Montpellier, underlining his quality, Garbisi knows he holds the key to a memorable Italian victory.

Wallabies pivot Noah Lolesio is supremely talented and has shown his quality repeatedly with the Brumbies and on several occasions at Test level. What is concerning is that the Wallabies management is clearly concerned about something in his game as they have made efforts to recall the likes of Bernard Foley instead of rolling the dice with the Brumby. However, this kind of Test may be just what he needs to remind Rennie of his all-around skill set. If the Wallabies gain dominance up front, there is no excuse for Lolesio not to boss the Florence Test.

Prediction

The Italians are a super team on the rise and will be full of confidence coming into this clash; however, the Wallabies know this is a Test they need to use to get back to winning form. The Australians do have the edge, but it will not be completely their way. Wallabies by seven.

Previous results

2018: Australia won 26-7 in Padova
2017: Australia won 40-27 in Brisbane
2013: Australia won 50-20 in Torino
2012: Australia won 22-19 in Firenze
2011: Australia won 32-6 in North Shore City
2010: Australia won 32-14 in Firenze
2009: Australia won 34-12 in Melbourne
2009: Australia won 31-8 in Canberra

The teams

Italy: 15 Ange Capuozzo, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Juan Ignacio Brex, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Montanna Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Lorenzo Cannone, 7 Michele Lamaro (c), 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 Niccolo Cannone, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Giacomo Nicotera, 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Giacomo Nicotera, 17 Ivan Nemer, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 David Sisi, 20 Toa Halafihi, 21 Alessandro Garbisi, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Tommaso Menoncello

Australia: 15 Jock Campbell, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Tom Wright, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Nick Frost, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (c), 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Matt Gibbon
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Langi Gleeson, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Ben Donaldson, 23 Jordan Petaia

Date: Saturday, November 12
Venue: Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence
Kick-off: 14:00 local (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Adam Leal (England)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series: Five storylines to watch this weekend including England desperate to bounce back

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