Italy’s summer tour: players to watch out for

Andrew Lawton
05 June 2018

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After finding the Guinness PRO14 fertile ground for progress last season, Italy head to Japan in the hope a test series win will catalyse confidence ahead of a World Cup year.

Both Italian sides doubled the number of wins they earned in 2016/17, Benetton winning five games on the bounce for the first time ever and beating champions Leinster in Dublin.

Seventh in Conference A, Zebre chipped in as well to ensure the two sides would win 17 games – the most ever achieved by Italian outfits.

So Azzuri head coach Conor O’Shea has a groundswell of positivity to draw on ahead of their two-test tour; a chance to cut teeth ahead of next year’s World Cup out in Japan.

Here’s a look at three players who could catch the eye in a blue jersey.

Sebastian Negri – Benetton Rugby

The absences of skipper Sergio Parisse, recently under the knife with a hernia operation, and Maxime Mbanda have left a gaping hole in Italy’s back row for their summer tour.

It falls, then, on the inexperienced shoulders of the Benetton blindside and Gloucester Rugby’s Jake Polledri to fill such distinguished shoes.

The pair are one-time schoolmates, having studied together at Hartpury College, with Negri’s seven Azzuri caps highlighting his powerful ball carrying and silky pair of hands.

The 23-year-old is no stranger to a challenge, fleeing his native Zimbabwe for South Africa at a tender age and was thrown into Italy’s tour of the USA in 2016 while still at university.

Negri’s starring role against France in this year’s Six Nations was a glimpse of his undoubted potential which O’Shea will hope continues to flower against the Brave Blossoms.

Carlo Canna – Zebre

After waiting years for a stand-off to emerge from the shadows of the legendary Diego Dominguez, Italy now have two credible candidates for the role.

Zebre fly-half Carlo Canna is a canny operator who has gradually punted his way towards the top of the Guinness PRO14 points tables.

He faces stiff competition though from Benetton’s Allan over who has the creative reins at number ten in Japan.

This responsibility will demand performances to mimic Allan’s 22-point turn against Scotland and the display that saw him cross the whitewash against Ireland in their opener.

Allan was a late replacement in Italy’s 26-23 defeat to Japan in Tokyo four years ago and, with Canna, is well placed to help deter a repeat.

Tommaso Benvenuti – Benetton Rugby

O’Shea seems to have settled on pairing the Zebre duo Mattia Bellini and Matteo Minozzi with Benvenuti, a back three in pole position to start the 2019 World Cup on Japanese soil.

With his partners on 13 and eight caps respectively, as a veteran of 50 international appearances Benvenuti’s experience will be invaluable in bedding in the backline.

Not known as a prolific try scorer – the 27-year-old went five years without an international try between 2012 and 2017 – instead his most valued quality is versatility.

The Benetton back, able to operate at centre or out wide, is joined by the returning Michele Campagnaro.

The tough-tackling Exeter Chiefs centre has been plagued by injury in recent seasons but is poised to make an impact and add to his 32 caps.

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