France survive almighty Six Nations scare to edge Italy

·27-min read
Matthieu Jalibert of France celebrates after scoring a try during the Six Nations Rugby match between Italy and France - France survive almighty Six Nations scare to edge Italy - Silvia Lore/Getty Images
Matthieu Jalibert of France celebrates after scoring a try during the Six Nations Rugby match between Italy and France - France survive almighty Six Nations scare to edge Italy - Silvia Lore/Getty Images

By Charles Richardson, rugby reporter, at the Stadio Olimpico

How do you say 'get out of jail free' in French? Whatever the idiom, after two last-gasp victories in the autumn, it was once again employed by head coach Fabien Galthié as France, embarking on a defence of their 2022 Grand Slam title, had the life frightened out of them before putting Italy to bed.

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Make no mistake, this was not an especially bad day at the office for Les Bleus. These Azzurri might not have beaten France since 2013, but under Kieran Crowley, Italy have improved immeasurably. After defeating both Wales and Australia last year, the hosts' losing bonus point was no less than they deserved against the reigning Six Nations champions - who have pushed their record win streak to 14. The narrow loss also rubbished the ridiculous notion that these marvellous Italians should be replaced in the championship. On Sunday, they were a credit to it, and they will travel to Twickenham next weekend full of confidence even if their geographical neighbours left Rome with the Giuseppe Garibaldi trophy.

"I hope our boys get the recognition for the performance without people saying France had an off day," Crowley said. "They had an off day because our boys played bloody well. We are slowly getting there.

When asked about next Sunday's clash against England, Crowley smiled: "We'll have a couple of beers tonight and think about that tomorrow! When you have new coaches it takes time to get the systems going and they haven't had that long. But we'll worry about them after we've assessed our game."

France, who might not be so confident ahead of their trip to Dublin next Saturday, had to score four tries - securing a bonus point - to put their Roman tormentors away. Indeed, it was not until the fourth and final was scored by the sizzling sidesteps of replacement Matthieu Jalibert that the game was decided.

Before the fly-half's 67th minute score, on the back of a bulky Gael Fickou carry and silky hands from Charles Ollivon and Romain Taofifenua, Italy led by a point, having scored two tries of their own through Ange Capuozzo - Wales' menace in Cardiff almost 12 months ago - and a penalty try from a cynical Ollivon maul collapse.

After the match, Galthié suggested that France had been bamboozled by a greater emphasis on defensive teams at rucks by referee Matthew Carley, echoed by his defence coach Shaun Edwards: "I have been in the game for 20 years and that's the most penalties I've had against us in defence. We will have to go through it in detail with the referees. I've not had a defence penalised so much.

"We all know if we don't up our game against Ireland next week we will be on the end of a 15, 20, 30-point defeat. We were hanging on in the end."

Just as Rome was not built in a day, Italy were never going to become omnipotent overnight, but their improvements are mightily impressive. This might well be the most skilful Italian side of all time, with one first-half attack showcasing as much flow, fluidity and flourish as anything that France mustered. The back five of the Italian scrum more than matched their French counterparts - none of whom played particularly poorly - and in Capuozzo and Tommaso Menoncello, the Azzurri have finally found some artistry behind to match their artisans up front.

But how they missed Paolo Garbisi - and how they need a scrum-half. Stephen Varney and Tommaso Allan are solid club players but at this level they were found wanting. Italy - in the first half, at least - were their own worst enemies, intent on playing kamikaze rugby. This crop might be the most creative that Italy have ever produced, but they are also the most infuriating and, at times, imbecilic. Often, that began at half-back, where Varney's early charge-down led to Thibaud Flament opening the scoring for France.

Two deft touches from the boot of Romain Ntamack furthered the visitors' lead - with Thomas Ramos and debutant wing Ethan Dumortier on the end of cross-field kicks - but Italy did not take long to respond. Capuozzo's staccato footwork perplexed Grégory Alldritt, and the full-back finished beautifully in the corner.

Ethan Dumortier scores their third try - France survive almighty Six Nations scare to edge Italy - Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters
Ethan Dumortier scores their third try - France survive almighty Six Nations scare to edge Italy - Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

Italy fought heroically as France's discipline disintegrated but the visitors had enough composure to finish the job, bulwarked by Sekou Macalou off the bench. For the Azzurri, the match will remain one that got away; for France, all their lives have been used up. A repeat against Ireland, in what many believe to be a second-round championship decider, and that jail sentence could be terminal.

Match details

Scoring sequence: 0-5 Flament try, 0-7 Ramos con, 3-7 Allan pen, 3-12 Ramos try, 6-12 Allan pen, 6-17 Dumortier try, 6-19 Ramos con, 11-19 Capuozzo try, 14-19 Allan pen, 14-22 Ramos pen, 21-22 penalty try, 24-22 Allan pen, 24-27 Jalibert try, 24-29 Ramos con.

Italy: A Capuozzo; P Bruno, J I Brex, L Morisi, T Menoncello; T Allan, S Varney (A Fusco 74); D Fischetti (F Zani 68), G Nicotera (L Bigi 68), S Ferrari (P Ceccarelli 56),  N Cannone (E Iachizzi 68), F Ruzza, S Negri (M Zuliani 65), M Lamaro (c), L Cannone (G Pettinelli 68).
Replacements unused: E Padovani.
Sin-bin: Ollivon 50.
France: T Ramos; D Penaud, G Fickou, Y Moefana, E Dumortier; R Ntamack (M Jalibert 65), A Dupont (c); C Baille (R Wardi 51), J Marchand (G Barlot 61), U Atonio (S Falatea 51), T Flament, P Willemse (R Taofifenua 51), A Jelonch, C Ollivon, G Alldritt (S Macalou 61).
Replacements unused: T Lavault, N Le Garrec.
Referee: M Carley (England)

Italy v France, as it happened:

05:14 PM

Worth having a look at Matthieu Jalibert's try

05:10 PM

'It 100% feels like a missed chance'

Italy's fly-half Tommaso Allan speaks with ITV Sport

It's quite tough to swallow this defeat. We had our chances. In the first half we had too many errors. We gave 19 points to the French off of our mistakes

We have to find our balance of execution. We will be more diligent the more we do. There's a lot of positive to take from this. We are very confident for next week's game.

It's small margins. I need to make those kicks and next time we can kick to win as well.

Were improving every week. We have to start winning as well now. We know we can win. We showed some good rugby today.

05:01 PM

France's discipline

As indefatigable as Italy looking, promise burnished by the talent of Ange Capuozzo, they were given, as Willemse states, numerous opportunities by France.

Too many, in fact: France conceded 18 penalties this afternoon.

04:58 PM

Paul Willemse speaks to ITV

Credit to Italy, they've really improved since last year.

They put us under pressure a lot.

They just utilised their opportunities very well, when we made mistakes.

But playing out of their own 22, we expected that, so nice to get a few rewards out of it.

On facing Ireland in Dublin next week:

It only gets harder. This competition is the best in the world, so we're really under pressure. Each game is going to be a different challenge.

04:50 PM

FT: Italy 24 France 29

France lock up, and there's no more magic for Italy to draw on. But what a match for Italy, bursting with promise.

Matthieu Jalibert's final try proved the difference for France - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto
Matthieu Jalibert's final try proved the difference for France - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto

04:49 PM

80 min: Italy 24 France 29

Zuliani muscles through the pack as Italy look to snatch a try at the last. France concede yet another penalty, and Allan still can't find the 5m line with his kick.

But can Italy pull off a stroke of genius here?

04:47 PM

79 min: Italy 24 France 29

Italy are throwing everything at their opponents, and no one more than Capuozzo, thriving off the energy as things come down to the wire. He tries to force down the left, but Italy can only gain a penalty from the play, which Allan kicks to the 22.

04:46 PM

78 min: Italy 24 France 29

Italy gain the advantage from a knock-on, and Capuozzo looks to sprint away, springing onto the end of a kicked ball, but the ball falls into touch.

04:45 PM

76 min: Italy 24 France 29

France set off from the scrum, sweeping up the field as Dupont directs play. Italy look to get on the front foot with quick recovery from the throw. Padovani is wrestled down as Italy try and force themselves over the halfway line.

In the French half, they can't make any further ground after a clever interception from Macalou.

04:42 PM

74 min: Italy 24 France 29

Padovani knocks the ball on and gifts France an attacking opportunity that Italy can ill-afford to handout.

04:40 PM

72 min: Italy 24 France 29

Allan cannily sets up for a penalty kick, but he misses by inches.

04:39 PM

71 min: Italy 24 France 29

Italy have a full lineout, and Bigi's throw is arrow-like. But Italy can't match France's crushing defence, and they're turned over within moments.

A near-miss from Italy! Mennoncello picks up a clever high ball from Varney and springs down the wing, kicking the ball in front of him, but he can't quite get there, before he's tumbled out of play for a penalty.

04:35 PM

67 min: Italy 24 France 29 (Jalibert)

France edge closer and closer, before Fickou attempts to break through just under the posts. He's stymied, but he gets off a sensational pass to Taofifenua, which ends with Jalibert. The replacement has scarcely been on the pitch five minutes, but he marauds to the try-line, picking up with clever hands, and France have the upper hand once again!

Ramos converts this time.

jalibert - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto
jalibert - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto

04:33 PM

66 min: Italy 24 France 22

France dominate their lineout, but fail to make ground with the ensuing maul. Italy concede a penalty wastefully, and France are able to kick into touch and set up spitting distance from the try-line.

04:28 PM

61 min: PENALTY! Italy 24 France 22 (Allan)

France throw the ball away, trying to displace Italian momentum and run down the clock, ahead of a penalty kick for Allan.

He has no problem feeding it between the posts, and France have the lead! Even Ollivon readying himself on the touchline won't dent Italy's joy.

04:25 PM

More from Charles Richardson

France retain a slender lead but you would not know it. The tone of the entire occasion has shifted; the crowd are behind Italy, and their defence is frustrating France. The momentum is certainly with the hosts.

Having said that, Thibaud Flament has just pinched an Italian line-out to restore a sense of calm to France. Italy exacerbate the lost possession by conceding a penalty, but Thomas Ramos cannot convert the three points.

flament - AP/Andrew Medichini
flament - AP/Andrew Medichini

04:25 PM

58 min: Italy 21 France 22

Cannone streaks through the middle, caught but passing off cleverly to Mennoncello. But France gift Italy let another penalty from the breakdown, and good kicking sends them up the field.

04:23 PM

56 min: Italy 21 France 22

Tensions are starting to bubble up in the France camp. There have been a few too many missteps in recent minutes, and France will have to keep cool to avoid squandering their slim lead during these next few minutes.

To add insult to injury, Ramos sends his penalty kick wide.

04:16 PM

51 min: PENALTY TRY! Italy 21 France 22

As Italy look to drive the maul over the line, Ollivon collapses over the ball and is given a yellow card and upon review from the TMO, it's a penalty try for Italy!

What a decision – not only are they separated by a whisker, but what can Italy do with an extra man?

04:13 PM

49 min: Italy 14 France 22

Bruno goes barreling into the French defence, but a high tackle gives Italy a second wind with the penalty advantage. Inch by inch, Italy are making ground. Brex bullies through, before setting up Allan to fly the ball to Varney.

Picking up another penalty, Allan pulls off a heroic kick to set up 5m out.

04:10 PM

46 min: PENALTY! Italy 14 France 22 (Ramos)

Italy concede only their third penalty, but France punish them, as Ramos steps up to score through the posts with the cleanest of strikes.

04:08 PM

44 min: Italy 14 France 19

Dumortier barrels through the Italy defence, before Ntamack sets up French runners down the right. But Bruno intervenes, and gives Italy a glimmer of hope as he bobs forward.

France gain a penalty from Italy straying offside, playing the advantage, but pace slows as Jelonch receives and looks for assistance on the left – but finds none.

04:05 PM

42 min: Italy 14 France 19

Italy get off on the front foot, pushing out from their 22, looking for gaps. France set up well for lineout, however, Cannone and Ruzza are drawn in to keeping Ollivon under wraps.

Dupont sneaks a ball over the head of an Italy player, reaching Penaud and he can bypass Varney to claim ground within the in-goal area.

04:02 PM

Second half incoming

No changes for either side, as they restart in Rome.

04:02 PM

Charles Richardson's half-time thoughts

Although indisciplined, France have not had a poor first half, but the fact that Italy trail by just five points at the break is indicative of their improvements.

The Azzurri have not helped themselves at times – with some mad attacks from deep – but this bunch might well be the most skillful Italian side we have ever seen. One first half attack, with backs and forwards combining beautifully, almost took the breath away; it was as good as anything that France have produced thus far.

And, in Ange Capuozzo, Italy have a little diamond. If only Paolo Garbisi – injured today – was pulling the strings inside him.

France will surely go on and win this match, but Italy have shown that they have potential for the next seven weeks.

03:57 PM

Ange Capuozzo's dazzling try – in pictures

ange - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto
ange - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto
ange - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto
ange - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto
ange - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto
ange - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto
ange - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto
ange - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto

03:55 PM


Everything to play for, as Italy have profited from France's lack of discipline and remain very much in the game. France have looked like champions, but Italy's fight should be applauded, and with a bit more focus, they could keep things close.

capuozzo - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto
capuozzo - AFP/Vincenzo Pinto

03:47 PM

40 min: PENALTY! Italy 14 France 19 (Allan)

Varney plays off to Negri, before Lamaro edges the ball even closer to the try-line. Allan dances through the pack, looking for Menoncello, but France are holding their line very well indeed as the phases rack up.

In the end, Italy walk away with a penalty, as the referee speaks to Dupont about French discipline, which he deems not good enough.

We tick into extra time as Allan steps up to take it, and he gets it.

03:44 PM

38 min: Italy 11 France 19

France moves to early for the lineout, and grants Italy important ground as they edge closer to half-time. It's their eight conceded, and from nothing, Italy look tantalisingly close to taking something.

03:41 PM

35 min: Italy 11 France 19

Allan sends a long kick down the ground, and Ramos returns, as Italy set up to surge forward. But France are making ground now, Fickou kicking the ball for Penaud on the run, but he can't get on the end of it in time.

03:38 PM

32 min: TRY! Italy 11 France 19 (Capuozzo)

Capuozzo is a man alone, drawn into a one-on-one with Alldritt after picking up a flighty pass. But he comes off the better, slipping past him to the corner just in time to plant the ball by the overturned flag. Capuozzo is once again the brightest star in Italy's firmament.

Allan fails to convert, but a positive period for Italy has its rewards.

03:34 PM

30 min: Italy 6 France 19

Negri is pulled down as Italy look to make their move into French territory, but Marchand tackles him from an offside position, and Italy have a penalty, setting up for a lineout on the 22.

03:32 PM

25 min: TRY! Italy 6 France 19 (Dumortier)

The debutant gets his first try for France! Beautiful build-up play from France, who exploit Italy's narrowness in defence. After surging forward with confidence, France are poised for Penaud to side a sumptuous aerial pass to Dumortier on the left. He leaps like a gazelle to catch it.

Ramos converts.

03:27 PM

21 min: PENALTY Italy 6 France 12 (Allan)

Italy get the advantage and with it, can make serious gains in France's territory sparked by an excellent collection and pass from Menoncello. Capuozzo struggles through the pack, and Italy tries for space down both wings, but France lock up defensively.

Italy do win a penalty, however, off that sustained pressure. Allan takes successively this once again.

03:23 PM

18 min: TRY! Italy 3 France 12 (Ramos)

France have an excellent scoring opportunity as they drive the maul forward, before the ball is spat out for France to charge down the right. Capuozzo leaps to intercept a flying pass aimed for Penaud, but instead is bulldozered by the player, the ball dropping between them. Ramos lurks behind to scoop up the ball and make the try – but this goes for review too!

This one stands, as the contest in the air is fine, and so is Ramos' grounding. Although Ramos doesn't make the ensuing conversion, France can finally add to their tally.

03:18 PM

14 min: Italy 3 France 7

But within moments, France have intercepted a proposed Italy attack, and cleaved them open, with France's Ollivon bullishly moving forward to plant the ball for a try – or is it?

The referee calls for review from TMO, and the try is cancelled out, much to Italy's relief.

03:15 PM

13 min: PENALTY! Italy 3 France 7 (Allan)

Italy can take confidence in their defence, which has France looking slightly more tentative after Atonio gifts Italy a penalty, which Allan steps up to take.

This time, he's close enough to loft the ball through the posts, and Italy can get on the scoreboard!

03:13 PM

11 min: Italy 0 France 7

Italy are throwing the kitchen sink into their defending, looking scrappy as France's confidence grows and grows. Hard work pays off, as they win a breakdown penalty.

03:10 PM

9 min: Italy 0 France 7

Dupont pulls off a stunning no-look pass at the short side, shimmying down the line. France look supremely confident as they regroup, full of excellent rhythm.

But Italy get a moment's respite winning a penalty from Willemse trying to slow play down. The lineout is taken well, and Allen tries to move forward, but within moments, they're turned over.

03:06 PM

5 min: TRY! Italy 0 France 7 (Flament)

Italy win the scrum, but as they exit, Varney goes for a kick but Flament hops on top it, and the ball sits beautifully for him. He is completely unencumbered as he sprints to score France's first try!

It's converted cleanly by Ramos, and France are more than underway.

flament - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
flament - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
flament - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
flament - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane

03:03 PM

2 min: Italy 0 France 0

France get underway in textbook fashion, but Italy benefit from the lineout and get their first surge forward. But Allan is thwarted, and Penaud can pick up a clumsy ball. He streaks away, but as he passes he drops the ball in an unanticipated clumsy play.

03:00 PM

Italy start things off

the Azzuri in white, and France are in bright blue.

02:59 PM

Here come the players

France are first out of the tunnel, followed by the home nation, and they line up for both rousing anthems. La Marseillaise will always be lauded, but the Italian anthem has a nice fizzing energy.

A few moments until we're underway.

02:51 PM

A reminder of those starting XVs

02:44 PM

France's defence coach Shaun Edwards speaks to ITV

It's been a very very good two weeks [with the team].

We got a lot of work done and we're looking forward to today.

We know the fantastic results [Italy have] had recently, but we aim to come here with the confidence of a champion and the attitude of a challenger.

[They bring] threats all over the pitch, but they also have a great team effort.

We're under no illusions of the challenge ahead of us today.

02:42 PM

Warm-ups are underway

france - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
france - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
france - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
france - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane

02:40 PM

Paolo Garbisi may be injured

But he's match-fit for commentary, and has been called up into the ITV ranks. He's interviewed pitchside:

I think and I hope the team is ready. I saw a team full of energy this week, really really positive.

We try to fix the details on our game plan.

It's a beautiful day in Rome, and i hope we can do it.

Surely France is a really unbelievable team, they have proven that in the past few months and years.

Breakdowns are going to be key today.

If they get quick balls, it's really hard to stop them.

[A win in Rome] that would be amazing! I hope we can do it today.

02:31 PM

Here come the Italians

02:31 PM

The crowds roll in, along with one or two VIPs

italy - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
italy - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
cockerel - Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters
cockerel - Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters
pope - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
pope - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
napoleon - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
napoleon - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane

02:22 PM

Charles Richardson is in Rome

Not meaning to gloat – promise – but there is not a cloud in the sky in the Italian capital, with temperatures up to 14 degrees. There is a faint chill in the breeze, but otherwise the conditions could not be more auspicious for a free-flowing game of Test match rugby.

France, who begin the defence of their Six Nations title today, have not lost a match since 2021, while Italy have not beaten their border-sharing adversaries since 2013. That paints a bleak picture for the Azzurri, but there are reasons for optimism for the home crowd.

This Italian side are vastly improved under Kieran Crowley, their Kiwi head coach, and have won five of their last seven Test matches – with both Wales and Australia among the opposition. Expect them to have some tricks up their sleeves today – Crowley hinted as much at the championship launch last week – and to cause France problems. Their front five is skillful and mobile, their back row is ferocious and, unlike in previous years, there is real cutting edge behind the scrum. The injury to fly-half Paolo Garbisi is a huge blow, however.

This might well be closer than many expect. While Italy are a potential banana skin, however, the reigning Grand Slam champions should ultimately seem themselves home.

02:20 PM

Inspecting the turf

... is France head coach Fabien Galthié, the transition lenses in his sensible plastic glasses giving him a certain air of Gallic glamour.

fabien galthie - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
fabien galthie - Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane

02:10 PM

The French have arrived at Stadio Olimpico

02:08 PM

Team news in full

Italy: 15. Ange Capuozzo, 14. Pierre Bruno, 13. Juan Ignacio Brex, 12. Luca Morisi, 11. Tommaso Menoncello, 10. Tommaso Allan, 9. Stephen Varney; 1. Danilo Fischetti, 2. Giacomo Nicotera, 3. Simone Ferrari, 4. Niccolo Cannone, 5. Federico Ruzza, 6. Sebastian Negri, 7. Michele Lamaro, 8. Lorenzo Cannone

Replacements: 16. Luca Bigi, 17. Federico Zani, 18. Pietro Ceccarelli, 19. Edoardo Iachizzi, 20. Giovanni Pettinelli, 21. Manuel Zuliani, 22. Alessandro Fusco, 23. Edoardo Padovani 

France: 15. Thomas Ramos, 14. Damian Penaud, 13. Gaël Fickou, 12. Yoram Moefana, 11. Ethan Dumortier, 10. Romain Ntamack, 9. Antoine Dupont; 1. Cyril Baille, 2. Julien Marchand, 3. Uini Atonio, 4. Thibaud Flament, 5. Paul Willemse, 6. Anthony Jelonch, 7. Charles Ollivon, 8. Gregory Alldritt

Replacements: 16. Gaetan Barlot, 17. Reda Wardi, 18. Sipili Falatea, 19. Romain Taofifenua, 20. Thomas Lavault, 21. Sekou Macalou, 22. Nolann Le Garrec, 23. Matthieu Jalibert

Referee: Matthew Carley

02:00 PM

Why Italy are finally exciting

By Charlie Morgan 

Michele Lamaro’s mouth curled into a spontaneous grin as the name of Ange Capuozzo was mentioned. The latter, among rugby union’s most exciting talents, has that effect on people.

“With him, anything can happen in every single moment in the game,” Lamaro explained. “It’s something special for us. He knows when to accelerate. He feels the moment.”

Kieran Crowley, the Italy head coach, has warned that Capuozzo must contend with second-season syndrome in 2023. His gliding full-back, an instinctive will-o'-the-wisp, “burst onto the scene” and has become “one of the superstars”. Crowley suggested that a “different challenge” awaits now that Capuozzo is a known entity.

As a collective, Italy want to prove that a stunning victory over Wales, which snapped a 36-match losing streak in the Six Nations, can be a launchpad rather than flash of respite. Their overall record in the tournament sits at 13 wins in 115 games, with an aggregate points difference south of -2,000.

Georgia overturned the Azzurri in July, adding weight to the Lelos’ eagerness for Six Nations expansion. Italy are currently ranked 12th in the world, indicating that yet another wooden spoon – what would be an eighth in succession – is on the cards.

But that afternoon in Cardiff last March, illuminated by Capuozzo’s mazy run to set up Edoardo Padovani’s decisive try, produced a glimmer of light. Then came a 49-17 thrashing of Samoa in November before Australia were beaten 28-27. The following week, Capuozzo ghosted through the Springboks for a memorable solo try. South Africa recovered, eventually thrashing Crowley’s men 63-21. Cause for optimism, though, feels genuine.

Ange Capuozzo is one of the game's most dazzling young talents - PA/Mike Egerton
Ange Capuozzo is one of the game's most dazzling young talents - PA/Mike Egerton

Capuozzo headlines a batch of intriguing players. Tommaso Menoncello, who starts on the left wing against France was described by Paul Gustard, his former Benetton defence coach, as “built like a bull” yet “shredded and super-fast” with “huge endurance”. Pierre Bruno, on the right wing, is a stocky athlete who scored twice against Samoa. The first, a breathtaking team move directly from a restart, comprised eight passes.

Tommaso Allan, in sparky form for Harlequins, is deputising for the injured Paolo Garbisi at fly-half with a dynamic and tough centre pairing of Juan Ignacio Brex and Luca Morisi. Stephen Varney, the Gloucester scrum-half, is still only 21. In the pack, Danilo Fischetti, Niccolo Cannone and Lamaro were part of the Under-20 team that kick-started some improved age-grade results by overturning Ireland at the 2017 World Championships. Another Cannone, younger brother Lorenzo, will be at the base of the scrum. Fischetti, the London Irish loosehead, beats defenders with dainty footwork and is a breakdown pest.

Some of Italy’s back play in the autumn, with Capuozzo sweeping into the line, was exceptional. According to Opta, they moved the ball beyond second-receiver in 17 per cent of phases – a higher rate than any other team, with Samoa and Japan second and third. Benetton, on course to qualify for the Champions Cup from the United Rugby Championship, have been part of the quick-tap penalty craze.

Crowley believes Italy need to be more “street smart” and Lamaro is eager that his side “stops conceding mistakes after a mistake” so they can “stay in the fight for 80 minutes”. That said, the industrious back-rower also insists that a maturing group is “comfortable and confident”. The demeanour or Crowley, who played 19 Tests for New Zealand between 1985 and 1991, is clearly helpful.

Kieran Crowley has coached Italy since May 2021 - AP/Peter Morrison
Kieran Crowley has coached Italy since May 2021 - AP/Peter Morrison

“We had the Six Nations launch last year and the first question was about promotion and relegation,” he said a fortnight ago. “This year, it took four hours before it got mentioned, so things have changed a little bit.

“Our whole mantra was to gain respect and credibility for Italian rugby. It’s for you guys to say whether we have achieved that, not us. But we’re developing a game that suits us. We’re getting consistency around some selections, which is what you have to do for cohesion. We’re working hard at it and we’ll change a couple of things for the Six Nations.

“You’ve always got to be a bit innovative. We, as coaches, have a responsibility to rugby to make it a little more attractive for spectators. It’s an entertainment business. You’ve got to have fan engagement.

“Test match rugby is about winning and losing because that’s how you keep your job… but I’m an older coach, so maybe that’s not as important to me.”

Hosting Wales in round four would seem the obvious opportunity in 2023 given Italy welcome the champions on the opening weekend before travelling to Twickenham and then taking on Ireland. Their World Cup schedule later this year is tricky, with France, New Zealand, Uruguay and Namibia in the same group. Despite Crowley’s phlegmatic tone, though, you sense they will not have to endure another 36 losses before another Six Nations triumph. Should they persist with a refreshing style, Italy will win fans as they go.

"There’s no target. We’re ranked sixth of the teams in this tournament,” Crowley finished. “I’ve been asked what a good Six Nations looks like. It’d be building on our credibility. As long as we control what we can over five games, hopefully there are good, positive results there.

“Our president might come out and say we need to win two games but this group won’t peak for four or five years…. we’ll take any wins, though.”