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Louis Lynagh and the dream debut

SPOTLIGHT: As dream debuts go, Louis Lynagh’s first outing in an Italian shirt was as close to one as you are likely to find.

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Against Scotland in Round Four of the Six Nations, the wing scored a try, and in doing so helped his team to a 31-29 win – their first Championship victory in Rome since they defeated Ireland 22-15 in 2013.

All in front of his father, former Australia flyhalf Michael Lynagh, and his Italian mother Isabella.

That win now sets up the Azzurri for their best finish since they joined the Six Nations in 2000. However, to do so they need to match their heroics from 2022 and defeat a winless Wales in Cardiff.

“We said it was important to celebrate such a big win. It was the first win in Rome in the Six Nations since 2013, so it’s a massive occasion for a lot of boys,” Lynagh said.

“We did celebrate it, but Gonzalo [Quesada, Italy head coach] did say in the meeting after the game that he didn’t want to spoil the party but have in the back of your mind that we have probably an even bigger match next week in Cardiff.

“We have the chance to be the first team to have two wins and a draw in the Six Nations. I think it’s going to really galvanise all the boys. We’ve parked it and are ready for the game, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

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Wooden Spoon showdown

Wales against Cardiff is the first match on Super Saturday, which concludes this year’s Six Nations, and a day when one of four teams could mathematically win the title.

Italy and Wales could both finish bottom depending on how their match at the Principality Stadium plays out.

Two years ago, Ange Capuozzo’s late heroics, Edoardo Padovani’s try and Paolo Garbisi’s conversion secured a 22-21 win that ended Italy’s run of 35 consecutive tournament defeats. It was also their first in the Welsh capital.

Lynagh has never previously played in Wales’s national stadium, but he has run out for Harlequins against Cardiff next door at the Arms Park.

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“A lot of the guys and my Dad have told me what it’s like to play in Wales,” he said. “The stands are very close to the pitch and it’s a hostile environment but it’s also one of the best stadiums in the world and the atmosphere is amazing.

“That’s going to help the Welsh team as well. They’re looking for a win and they don’t want to finish on a loss, so it’s going to be a massive game for them.

“It’s going to be a great game and both teams are going to be looking for the bonus point. I expect a lot of good rugby to be played.”

Sending them homeward

The 23-year-old Lynagh’s debut came after he signed for his hometown club Benetton Treviso, one of two Italian franchises in the United Rugby Championship.

The news was made public in early February and soon after Quesada called him up for the Italy squad for their match away to France in Lille in Round Three. He didn’t make the squad for the 13-13 draw, but when Scotland came to Rome aiming for their third win of the tournament, he was given his chance.

The Harlequin’s first task was to subdue Scotland’s powerful wing Duhan van der Merwe, who lined up opposite him, aiming to add to his five tries in the tournament.

“Before the game me, Nacho [Juan Ignacio Brex], the No. 13, and Monty [Ioane] who’s on the other wing, and Ange (Capuozzo), said that if we can try and get up in his face, try and limit the time he has to get going, we can shut him down, and I think we did that pretty well,” Lynagh said.

“It was a great first Test to play in, against a very in-form team and against some of the best players in the world, and one of the best wings in the world. It’s given the team and me a lot of confidence.”

His try came at important juncture. Scotland scrumhalf George Horne had just had a try disallowed, that if converted would have given the visitors a 29-16 lead. Instead, two minutes later Lynagh’s maiden Test try brought Italy back to within a point and it proved to be the launchpad for their comeback.

It was an impressive score as he raced onto Garbisi’s threaded grubber kick and outpaced Finn Russell and Kyle Steyn to score.

“We identified at half time that sometimes they left the backfield space open, especially in their own half,” “he said.

“I looked up when Paolo came around the corner and I saw space and I said ‘calcio’, which is kick in Italian. Paolo looked up and he did the rest with the perfect kick. It bounced for me, and I just had to run it in.”

Living La Vita Bella

When Lynagh joins Benetton over the summer it means that for the first time since he was four, when his family moved to England, he will live in his birth country.

It was while his father was playing for Benetton that he met his wife, and Louis was born there. He grew up in south-west London from the age of four but visited his grandfather Giordano in Treviso during the school holidays, which meant his Italian skills didn’t lapse.

He was called into the England squad a few times under Eddie Jones but didn’t play. Australia also asked, but unlike his younger brother Tom who followed their father into the Reds No. 10 shirt, he opted to remain with Harlequins.

Italy’s previous head coach Kieran Crowley also made enquiries, but Lynagh wanted to stay with Harlequins, and it wasn’t until he spoke to Benetton coach and former Italy captain Marco Bortolami that he decided to head to Italy.

“I kept my options open throughout my whole career to date, and playing for any international country, whether it’s England, Australia, or Italy, is the highest honour I can get,” he said.

“As a coach Marco is very driven and he knows the style he wants to play and what he wants from his players. It’s the same with Antonio Pavanello, the general manager. He’s done an amazing job with recruitment and both of them are a big reason I did move. They seemed like they really wanted me as a piece of the puzzle which is a great feeling as a rugby player.

“That’s the decision I’ve come to, for better or for worse, and it’s an amazing feeling to be part of this arena, the Six Nations. I’ve grown up watching it since I was a little kid and now, I’m part of it.

“Having a decent debut and having been part of a massive Italian win, it feels so good. It’s very special. We now have to back it up and finish the Six Nations strongly.”

Source @SixNations

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