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Italy not fazed by brutal World Cup draw

SPOTLIGHT: Italy have a huge task facing them as Kieran Crowley’s talented young team try to reach the knockout stage of the World Cup for the first time.

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The Azzurri will have to beat one of three-time winners New Zealand or hosts France if they are to get out of Pool A, as Namibia and Uruguay are unlikely to offer much resistance.

Making the quarterfinals would be a massive achievement for a country which operates with a fraction of the budget available to international rugby’s big hitters and has finished bottom of the Six Nations table for eight consecutive years.

But under outgoing head coach Crowley a fresher, more energetic team has emerged which is more than capable of causing damage to anyone, a squad with an average age of 26 travelling over the Alps next month with the hope that this might be the year.

A combination of naivety and bad luck cost Italy from scoring points in the most recent Six Nations, which had come with high expectations following a maiden victory over Australia last autumn.

Italy recovered from conceding three tries in the first half an hour to lose by five points to France and also gave Grand Slam winners Ireland a run for their money.

They have earned increasing respect from more established rugby nations but the results have not come with the recognition.

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Crucial to their chances will be Toulouse’s Ange Capuozzo, who returned to action after six months out with a shoulder injury for Italy’s two pre-World Cup warm-ups and promptly scored two tries on his comeback against Romania.

– Capuozzo the key –

Italy have other top-tier players like Montpellier flyhalf Paolo Garbisi but it is Capuozzo who provides something different, something which puts other team’s defences on the back foot.

“He’s a brilliant player, an important player because he brings speed, power and unpredictability,” said Crowley of his crackerjack fullback.

France-born Capuozzo also shone in Saturday’s convincing 42-21 win over Japan in which Italy’s attacking flare was fully on display, five tries scored including a hat-trick from Lyon’s Monty Ioane.

Capuozzo was key to two of Ioane’s tries, the Melbourne-born wing latching on to a brilliant kick from the fullback in the 22nd minute.

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And then Capuozzo’s break after a scintillating series of one-step passes ended with Ioane crossing midway through the second half.

The 24-year-old told AFP this month that taking part in his first World Cup is a “magical” feeling after only making his international debut in spring last year.

Italy’s chances of qualifying for the quarters will likely go down to their last match in Pool A against France, as they will first face Namibia and Uruguay before having to take on the big two.

The clash with Les Bleus should play out as a knockout game for the Italians, who need to finish at least third in order to qualify for the next World Cup.

“Our objective is clear: winning first two matches against Namibia and Uruguay,” Capuozzo told AFP.

“Once we’ve achieved that, we’ll go on to face New Zealand and France. In one match, anything can happen.

“Yes, we’re outsiders, we’re far from favourites, but we’ve got a very complete team and we can worry any team.”

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