Azzurri fear Wallaby backlash
Italy have a historic first victory over a wounded Wallabies side in their sights on Saturday but remain wary of a backlash.
Italy have a historic first victory over a wounded Wallabies side in their sights on Saturday but remain wary of a backlash following the Australians' recent defeat to England.
Italy's growing status in the sport was rubber-stamped by their impressive 2013 Six Nations campaign which featured wins over France and Ireland and a narrow, seven-point defeat to England.
On paper, Italy, with former Perpignan coach Jacques Brunel at the helm, could not be meeting the former two-time World Cup champions at a better time.
However, Brunel is not alone in thinking Ewen McKenzie's side will emerge at the Olympic Stadium looking to make amends for a 20-13 defeat at Twickenham.
"You can't say it's the best time to be meeting Australia. I'm sure that after last week's defeat, which to me was quite unlucky, they will bring a lot of intensity and rhythm into this match," Brunel said.
The statistics, however, suggest Italy have a real chance to claim what would be their first ever win over Australia in 16 attempts.
Having allowed England to overturn their 6-13 half-time deficit in London, Australia's dreams of a Grand Slam (victory over all four Home Unions) came undone at the first hurdle.
The pressure on McKenzie, who took over from Robbie Deans in July following Australia's defeat to the British and Irish Lions, has only intensified.
Ahead of further matches against Ireland, Scotland and Wales, he admits Italy will be a tougher nut to crack than they were this time last year when the Aussies held on to claim a 22-19 win in Florence.
"We've never had an easy game here in Italy and even last year they had a chance to tie the game after the final siren," said McKenzie.
McKenzie has made only one change from the XV that started against England with Rob Simmons, known primarily as a lock, coming in at blindside flank to replace Scott Fardy, who is unavailable after suffering concussion last week.
Simmons' inclusion is designed to add muscle to the set-pieces of the scrum and line-out, and McKenzie added: "Having Simmo return will benefit us in that regard. He's instrumental in us winning our own ball while we'll be looking for him to put pressure on their line-out, and their scrum."
Italy are renowned for their set-piece strength and second row forward Antonio Pavanello believes consistency is the key.
"Last year we came into our game in the second half and this time we want to play well from the beginning," he said.
"If there is one point where we can put pressure on Australia, I'm sure it's in the forwards. But we have to go out and do it, not just talk about it."
Simmons senses Australia's forwards could be kept busy throughout.
"It's a big day for us forwards. If we can nullify their forwards, it will go a good way to winning the game," he said.
In the absence of Andrea Masi, Australian-born Luke McLean comes in at full-back for Italy.
And having watched last week's game against England closely, he warned of the danger of momentarily lapses - and of Australia's sheer desire to chalk a win up on the board.
"If you switch off, they're capable of putting 20 points in you in 10 minutes," McLean told AFP.
He believes the Wallabies could have the edge because they have something to prove.
"Sometimes it's easier when they come off wins, when they're a little over-confident. I think they have their backs to the wall and there's only one way they can go, and that is forward," added McLean.
"I think [criticism of] their performances has been a little bit over-exaggerated."