An improving Italy will be hoping to avoid picking up an eighth successive Wooden Spoon in the 2023 edition of the Six Nations.
The Five Nations became the Six Nations in 2000 when Italy were added to the competition alongside England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France.
The Azzurri have often struggled to meet the required standards in the competition, finishing bottom of the standings in 17 of their 23 campaigns and subsequently being awarded the Wooden Spoon.
They’ve never managed to finish any higher than fourth, achieving that feat on two occasions - 2007 and 2013 - and haven’t sealed more than two wins in any single campaign.
Understandably, the Azzurri have earned a reputation for being the whipping boys of the competition, although there are reasons to believe they could cause a shock or two this year.
|What||2023 Six Nations|
|Where||London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Dublin, Paris and Rome|
|When||Saturday 4th February - Saturday 18th March|
|How to watch||BBC and ITV|
|Odds||Ireland 11/8, France 6/4, England 9/2, Wales 14/1, Scotland 20/1, Italy 500/1|
Italy, 1/6 To Finish Bottom this season, signed off last year’s Six Nations with an historic 22-21 victory over Wales at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
That famous triumph, which was Italy’s first-ever away win in Wales, ended a losing sequence of 23 Six Nations fixtures, and they showed incredible defensive resilience to edge to victory for the first time since beating Scotland in 2015.
And their previous four outings in the 2022 Championship didn’t appear to offer any reason to believe they could go to Wales and pull off a shock.
France, England, Ireland and Scotland all scored at least 30 points en route to seeing off the Italians, while they were beaten to nil when hosting Eddie Jones’ side.
However, head coach Kieran Crowley, who replaced Franco Smith in May 2021, signed off the Six Nations campaign in style.
The win arrived in dramatic style as full-back Ange Capuozzo, marking his first start, broke free before teeing up Edoardo Padovani for a last-gasp try, while Paolo Garbisi held his nerve with the final kick of the game, converting to get Italy over the line.
Much can be made of Wales’ struggles last year, finishing just one place and three points above Italy in the standings, but that certainly didn’t dampen the celebrations of the visitors.
Ending a seven-year losing streak was one big tick for Crowley, but the statistics also suggest Italy are moving in the right direction.
Italy, despite failing to register any points in their loss to England, scored 60 across the 2022 campaign, their highest tally since 2019.
They also made huge strides defensively and that was clear to see when they stood firm in the face of immense pressure for Wales. Crowley’s side conceded 181 points across their five outings in 2022, 58 fewer than they shipped in the previous campaign.
It’s also worth noting that their points conceded average of 36.2 was a vast improvement on their 47.8 average of 2021.
Italy conceded over 40 points in all five of their 2021 fixtures, twice seeing 50 or more points landed against them, while only once did a team manage to put more than 40 points on the board last year.
The gap certainly appears to be closing and Italy will hope to have a greater say on the upcoming edition of the competition.
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Following their win over Wales, Italy picked up a further two wins when beating Portugal and Romania in June and July respectively.
Those triumphs don’t offer a great indication that Italy are on the up, but their performances in the following Autumn Internationals do.
Italy took on international heavyweights Samoa, Australia and South Africa in November and managed to emerge from that tough trio of games with a huge amount of credit, having picked up two wins.
Crowley oversaw a 49-17 victory over Samoa in early November, before leading Italy to a first-ever win over Australia a week later.
Capuozzo, who is 25/1 to win the Player of the Championship Award, once again displayed his importance to the side as he scored two tries in the 28-27 victory over the Wallabies.
The 23-year-old also went on to add a try to his tally in the 63-21 defeat to South Africa, which brought Italy crashing back down to earth, and he will be essential to their hopes of picking up positive results in the Six Nations this season.