Preview: Australia v Italy
IN THE INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT: Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he is expecting surprises from unpredictable Italy in Saturday's Test in Brisbane as the hosts grope for form after last week's surprise loss to Scotland.
Italy's canny Irish coach Conor O'Shea has already flummoxed rugby heavyweights England and South Africa over the past 12 months with what has euphemistically been called "creative" rugby.
The Italians upset the Springboks 20-18 in Florence last November, but it was the "offside trap" tactic that bedevilled England and led coach Eddie Jones to wail: "If that's rugby, I'm going to retire. That's not rugby,"
England went on to beat Italy 36-15 to stay on course for back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slams last February, but the result was overshadowed by the debate about their tactics.
The perennial Six Nations underdogs led England 10-5 at half-time after repeatedly refusing to commit anyone other than the tackler to the breakdown, meaning no ruck was formed.
Cheika said the Wallabies would be prepared for anything Italy throw at them this weekend.
"They've got a track record of doing that and we've discussed those opportunities that could occur in the game and how we deal with them," he said.
"They've got a clever coaching team. They've done that [no ruck tactic] but also two-man lineouts so we've got to be aware of those things but not let them override us playing our game,"
The Wallabies have yet to lose in 16 encounters with Italy, but are coming off the much-criticised 19-24 loss to Scotland in Sydney last weekend which prompted six team changes.
The Azzurri promise to be awkward opponents and last weekend lost 19-22 to a dramatic drop goal after the full-time siren against Fiji in Suva.
"We are a team that likes to come up with surprises and cause confusion," Italian lock Andries van Schalkwyk said.
"We always try to disrupt and number one is being a really hard team for Australia to play against,"
O'Shea added: "Italian rugby has to think outside the norm or else it will never catch up.
"People talk about David versus Goliath - well it wasn't in a normal fist fight that David won,"
Stephen Moore returns to captain the Wallabies in his 120th Test, surpassing Italian Martin Castrogiovanni and Englishman Jason Leonard to become the 10th most-capped international player.
Cheika made three other changes in the forward pack, with Brumbies pair, prop Scott Sio and lock Rory Arnold, joined by Lopeti Timani at No.8 in place of rookie prop Tom Robertson, lock Sam Carter and No.8 Scott Higginbotham.
"Moore's obviously the captain of the team and he's got a lot of experience," Cheika said.
"Polota-Nau's still putting out a big challenge to him and I want to give Moore the chance to respond."
O'Shea has made three changes, bringing in scrum-half Tito Tebaldi to the starting side for the first time in three years, with van Schalkwyk at No.8 and Marco Lazzaroni in line for a debut off the bench.
Players to watch:
For Australia: Captain Stephen Moore returns to the starting X, the hooker will be eager to show Michael Cheika that he is worthy of not only the number two jersey but of that captain's armband as well. Rob Horne's agility on attack should be everything but rusty following his 12 months absence from the Green-and-gold jersey.
For Italy: South African-born Andries Van Schalkwyk will want to cement himself as the regular Italian No.8 especially after Italian stalwart Sergio Parrise's international retirement. Centre Michele Campagnaro solid defence has to be on point while his pace on attack is vital to break through the Wallabies midfield.
Head to Head: The scrum is going to be an interesting battle with Allan Alaalatoa, Stephen Moore and Scott Sio bashing shoulders with the Italian pack of Simone Ferrari, hooker Luca Bigi and Andrea Lovotti. The battle at the breakdown will be a good contest as the ever hardworking Michael Hooper and fresh Ned Hanigan tries to outmanoeuvre the Italian flanks Maxime Mbanda and captain Francesco Minto.
Most recent results:
2013: Australia won 50-20, Torino
2012: Australia won 22-19, Firenze
2011: Australia won 32-6, North Shore City
2010: Australia won 32-14, Firenze
2009: Australia won 34-12, Melbourne
2008: Australia won 30-20, Padova
2006: Australia won 25-18, Rome
Prediction: With both teams desperate for a win after heartbreaking defeats against Scotland and Fiji, respectively, the match is set up as a critical must-win match for both. It's going to be a close one, but Australia will take it by 5 points of less.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Lopeti Timani, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Reece Hodge.
Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Maxime Mbanda, 6 Francesco Minto (captain), 5 Dean Budd, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Ornel Gega, 17 Federico Zani, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Marco Lazzaroni, 20 Abraham Steyn, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Date: Saturday, June 24
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 15.00 (07.00 Italy time; 05.00 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)