Review of Italy’s summer tour of Japan

Andy Baber
20 June 2018

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Italy’s summer tour of Japan ended on a high as they defeated the hosts 25-22 to claim their first victory of the year and level the two-Test series.

Matteo Minozzi in action

The victory for Conor O’Shea’s men in Kobe was their first since November 2017, after struggling in this year’s Six Nations Championship.

It was a much-needed confidence boost for the Azzurri, who included 13 players from Guinness PRO14 sides Benetton and Zebre in the starting line-up for the win at the Noevir Stadium.

Here we have a look at what we have learned about the Italians following the June internationals.

Room for improvement

Italy were humbled in their opening game of the tour against the Brave Blossoms, who ran in four tries to see off the tourists 34-17 at Oita Bank Dome.

Japan’s attacking rugby proved too much for the Azzurri, who were left reeling after tries from Amanaki Mafi, Kenki Fukuoka, Lomano Lemeki and Kotaro Matsushima.

But O’Shea was delighted with how his players responded in the second Test, with two clutch penalties from Benetton star Tommaso Allan repelling a late Japan fightback.

Speaking after the nail-biting victory in Oita, the Italy head coach took plenty of encouragement from the tour and said he wants his side to maintain the same level going forward.

“We have to play the same level we played [in the second Test match] for almost an hour every time we go on the pitch,” said O’Shea.

“We are changing many things for the better, but even if we are doing the right things, we know that there is still much to do, and we will do it together with this group.”

Young talent impresses again

Even when Italy struggled during the summer tour to Japan – and the Six Nations beforehand – they were still able to rely on the quality of their young emerging talent.

Zebre’s Matteo Minozzi was the star man during the Six Nations and once again proved his ability as an attacking force in both Tests, racking up plenty of yards and defenders beaten.

He switched from full-back to wing for the second match as O’Shea brought in Benetton’s Jayden Hayward, but Minozzi was just as dangerous as he was in the No.15 shirt.

Allan also backed up his excellent 2018 Six Nations campaign, kicking key points in the victory, while Benetton team-mate Sebastian Negri continues to impress despite only being 23 years old.

O’Shea admitted the tour has been a big learning curve for many of his youngsters and the experience should only benefit them as they progress as a team.

“I’m happy about the victory and what it means for the players, for the fans, for all the Italian rugby,” said O’Shea. “The youngsters have learned a lot from this match and from this victory.”

Clear direction going forward

Captain Leonardo Ghiraldini, who took over from regular skipper Sergio Parisse for this tour, spoke of his pride after Italy bounced back from defeat to draw the series.

He believes the team now has a clear direction going forward, with the large contingent of Benetton and Zebre players expected to take Italy through the next Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup.

“I’m proud of the reaction of the team after Oita,” said Ghiraldini. “Even if the goal of the tour was to win the series, we played a great rugby and reacted brilliantly to the difficulties.

“We know where we want to go and it is a great victory for us and for the staff, we have worked very hard over the past two years and we will continue to do so, the direction is clear.”

With their frustrating winless run now behind them and an exciting mix of youngsters and experienced heads at their disposal, the Azzurri can look forward to a much brighter future.

 

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