Self-belief has Italy chasing Rugby World Cup wins starting with Namibia

When Ange Capuozzo and Edoardo Padovani combined for the last-ditch converted try that stunned Wales in Cardiff last year, Italy finally showed coach Kieran Crowley what he told them they were capable of.

Italy was at one of its lowest points when Crowley took charge in May 2021. He figured it was pointless the Azzurri play the same way with the same players. So the former New Zealand fullback expanded the game plan and brought in younger players. Then he tried to convince them they could win and how to do it.

But until they beat Wales to end a depressing 36-game losing streak in the Six Nations, they weren’t really convinced. Italy hasn’t been the same since. Wins are still elusive but the Azzurri are going for them in a Rugby World Cup pool including France, New Zealand and Uruguay.

“Self-belief,” is the difference in the Italy ranks between now and two years ago, Crowley noted on Thursday, two days before their opening match against Namibia in Saint-Etienne.

“When you start winning a couple of games you get self-belief. We are encouraging the positives. Sometimes, we’ve had too much of what we can’t do, rather than what we can do. But where is the ceiling for players, where is the ceiling for skill levels?

“We wanted to create an identity and get some respect and credibility. You want respect, you want credibility. We’ve still got a little way to go. This group will keep developing and hopefully this is another step on the way.”

Montanna Ioane established himself on the wing before Crowley arrived, but played for four years under Crowley at Benetton.

“Results don’t lie,” Ioane said. ”We started building something from the first time Kieran came. Our first game was against the All Blacks and that was the start of a changed era.

“It’s only going to get better as long as the young ones commit to the process. You’ve got a lot of young boys coming through and it’s crazy, they just don’t feel pressure.”

Captain Michele Lamaro added, “We all know that at our best we are good players, we can put teams under pressure. Now it is how many times you can do that during the game.”

Namibia boasts more World Cup experience than Italy for their Pool A match at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Saturday.

Italy has far more caps, though, thanks to a much busier program. Experience was the difference when the teams also met in their opening game at the 2019 World Cup in Higashiosaka. The Namibians typically fought hard but Italy won 47-22.

The Italians have five players remaining from that game, while Namibia has eight. Namibia has 12 players in all from 2019, with nine running out for their third tournament appearance. Namibia even included two of its three try-scorers from the 2019 game, scrumhalf Damian Stevens and wing JC Greyling.

Italy made two changes from its last warmup game, a 42-21 win over Japan in Treviso two weeks ago. Former London Irish prop Danilo Fischetti and Harlequins lock Dino Lamb have swapped off the bench to start in place of Ivan Nemer and Niccolo Cannone. The backline was the same, including Ioane, who scored three tries against Japan.

The reserves included Saracens prop Marco Riccioni, whose knee injury in the Ireland warmup loss, along with Stephen Varney’s shoulder complaint in the same game, made Crowley delay the World Cup squad announcement.

“Namibia should not be underestimated,” Italy hooker Giacomo Nicotera said.

“The most important lesson from the match against Japan was always being in the lead and always in control of the match. We scored immediately and remained in front, something that doesn’t happen often. It will be essential to approach Namibia the same way. They say we are favorites, but then we always have to prove it on the pitch.”

Namibia will play only a 12th test since 2021 when former South Africa coach Allister Coetzee took over while also overseeing Italy’s Rovigo club.

Crowley’s Italy contract was surprisingly not extended by the federation, and after the World Cup he’s going to a club in Japan Rugby League One. But he said knowing his time with Italy was on a countdown hadn’t changed or loosened up his approach. He was sticking to the process he started two years ago.

“It doesn’t matter what the situation would have been coming into this. I would have prepared exactly the same,” Crowley said. “More freedom? No. I always have freedom. I have been around a long time, I don’t put any boundaries on things.

“Come the end of the tournament, what’s happened, has happened. As long as when we go home we can look ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘We gave everything we had.’ And (if) we were good enough, or we weren’t quite good enough, that’s the way sport is.”

___

Lineups:

Italy: Tommaso Allan, Ange Capuozzo, Juan Ignacio Brex, Luca Morisi, Montanna Ioane, Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Lorenzo Cannone, Michele Lamaro (captain), Sebastian Negri, Federico Ruzza, Dino Lamb, Simone Ferrari, Giacomo Nicotera, Danilo Fisichetti. Reserves: Hame Faiva, Ivan Nemer, Marco Riccioni, David Sisi, Manuel Zuliani, Martin Page-Relo, Paolo Odogwu, Pierre Bruno.

Namibia: Divan Rossouw, Gerswin Mouton, Johan Deysel (captain), Danco Burger, JC Greyling, Tiaan Swanepoel, Damian Stevens; Richard Hardwick, Johan Retief, Wian Conradie, Tjiuee Uanivi, Adriaan Ludick, Johan Coetzee, Torsten Van Jaarsveld, Desiderius Sethie. Reserves: Louis van der Westhuizen, Jason Benade, Casper Viviers, Tiaan De Klerk, Prince Gaoseb, Jacques Theron, Andre van der Bergh, Le Roux Malan.

___

AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up