Preview: Italy v Australia
KNOCK-OUT PUNCH: Italy are looking to turn the screw on Michael Cheika and gun for their first ever win over ailing Australia, who are in the mire after a terrible recent run of results.
Pressure is mounting on Wallabies coach Cheika thanks to the two-time world champions gaining just three wins from 11 Tests this season, with the latest defeat coming against Wales in Cardiff last weekend.
Italy have lost all 17 matches they have ever played with Australia, with nine of those defeats coming on Italian soil, but with the touring side in such a bad state Conor O’Shea’s team are looking for what would be a famous win in Padua.
“Coming off a win always helps from in terms of mood and self-confidence,” said Italy forwards coach Giampiero De Carli after last weekend’s 28-17 win over Georgia.
“Australia are a team with a high level of technical skill. We’ll have to try to keep up the pressure and to be sharper in attack, but the support of our crowd will surely be a help.”
There has been speculation that defeat at the Stadio Euganeo could be the final straw for 51-year-old Cheika, whose side have slipped to seventh in the world rankings.
But Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle insisted that Cheika was contracted until the World Cup in Japan next year.
“It certainly wasn’t a game we were far away from,” she said of the 6-9 defeat by Wales.
“We could have ended up with the win.
“I know no one is more frustrated than the players themselves and they’ll be looking to turn that around this weekend.”
Italy, ranked 13th in the world, shocked South Africa 20-18 in Florence in November 2016.
And they hope they can repeat that feat against another of the world’s top teams.
O’Shea has made just one change to the side that beat Georgia, bringing in fullback Jayden Hayward.
Cheika has rung the changes with Jake Gordon and Jordan Petaia set to make their Australia debuts.
Gordon, 25, was selected ahead of Will Genia, who drops back to the bench.
Petaia, 18, will become the youngest Australian debutant since James O’Connor in 2008 and the third-youngest ever, behind Brian Ford and O’Connor.
Petaia will play on the wing, with Israel Folau shifting to fullback to accommodate the most-capped player, Adam Ashley-Cooper, who returns for the first time since August 2016.
The 34-year-old Ashley-Cooper will run out for his 117th Test in north-eastern Italy and in doing so will become the third-most capped Australian of all time ahead of former Wallabies captain Nathan Sharpe.
Matt Toomua will wear the Wallabies number 10 shirt for the first time in over five years with Bernard Foley shifting to inside centre and Kurtley Beale on the bench.
Australia last played Italy in 2017 in Brisbane, with the Wallabies pulling away late to win 40-27.
They last played in Padua ten years ago with Sekope Kepu, O’Connor and Quade Cooper making their Test debuts in the 30-20 win.
“Australia are a tough team to tackle,” said 48-year-old Irishman O’Shea. “We’ve achieved an important victory against Georgia. We know that playing our best rugby can put them in trouble,”
Italy beat Japan 25-22 in Kobe last June but suffered a heavy 54-7 defeat by Six Nations champions Ireland in Chicago earlier this month.
They play world champions New Zealand in Rome on November 24, with Australia taking on England the same day at Twickenham.
Players to Watch:
For Italy: New Zealand-born Jayden Hayward’s return to the side is a wonderful addition for the Italians. The fullback is certainly one to keep an eye on. Tommaso Castello with his speed and acceleration will be a handful in the midfield. While in the pack South African-born Abraham Steyn can be a handful at the breakdown.
For Australia: Israel Folau is always a dangerman whenever he is on the field. While the return of Adam Ashley-Cooper could be a masterstroke for the Wallabies. No.8 David Pocock is a strong and fearless robber and always one to watch. Scrumhalf Will Genia labelled as one the best No.9s in the world will provide a necessary impact from the bench.
Head to head: The fullback battle will be interesting, Jayden Hayward goes up against Isreal Folau. At centre, the unfamiliar partnership of Samu Kerevi and Bernard Foley will have to be in fine form as they face the hosts’ Michele Campagnaro and Tommaso Castello. While at flyhalf Matt Toomua will have to overcome the inform Tommaso Allan.
2017: Australia won 40-27, Brisbane
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
2009: Australia won 31-8, Canberra
2008: Australia won 30-20, Padova
Prediction: The Italians will see this as an opportunity to exploit Wallabies. Thus far Michael Cheika’s side has been struggling and found themselves seventh on the World Rugby Rankings. The side made some interesting changes handing the pivot role Matt To’omua while Bernard Foley is tested on 12. However, despite their failure to beat big teams like South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland and even Wales, it’s very difficult to see how the Wallabies could lose to Italy. Thus, even with their horrible form their track record against Italy speaks volumes therefore Australia will win this by 10 points.
Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Abraham Steyn, 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (captain), 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Johan Meyer, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Luca Morisi.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Bernard Foley, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Matt To’omua, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Jermaine Ainsley, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Will Genia, 22 Kurtley Beale, 23 Dane Haylett-Petty.
Date: Saturday, November 17
Venue: Stadio Euganeo, Padova
Kick-off: 15.00 (14.00 GMT, 01.00 AEDT Sunday, November 18)
Expected weather: Sunny but cold with no chance of precipitation. High of 12°C and low of 3°C
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Mike Adamson (Scotland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
AFP & Rugby365com