W6N 2022: Italy Team Preview
By: Jackie Finlan, The Rugby Breakdown
Italy returns to the women’s rugby Six Nations championship as the fourth-place team, but the Azzurre is eager to showcase the gains it has made since spring 2021. Italy hosted and won the Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2021 Europe Qualifier in September, and those revealing contests have provided lots of intel for progress moving forward.
The 2021 Women’s Six Nations was an abbreviated series due to Covid-19, and Italy lost its opener 67-3 to reigning champion England before defeating Scotland 41-20. On finals day on April 24, Ireland beat Italy 25-5 for 3rd place. The latter two contests were especially useful, as both Scotland and Ireland were destined for the impending RWC qualifier, along with Italy and Spain.
The September round robin occurred at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in Parma, and offered a direct route to the RWC in New Zealand. Host Italy was ready to stamp out its path to the southern hemisphere, and on Sept. 13, opened with a 38-13 victory against Scotland. Captain and fullback Manuela Furlan (81 caps), wing Maria Magatti (38), center Michela Sillari (63), scrumhalf Sara Barattin (101), and back rows Giada Franco (21) and Ilaria Arrighetti (51) scored tries. Sillari kicked four conversions as well.
Italy women’s rugby team head coach Andrea di Giandomenico, while pleased with the bonus-point victory, asserted that much more work was ahead. And Ireland confirmed that supposition. After losing an 8-7 decision to Spain in round one, the Irish needed to beat Italy in order to keep their RWC hopes alive, and they did so in a 15-7 victory.
“We lost the battle for territory, pitch position,” Di Giandomenico said. “We know [at] the breakdown we had turnovers, so it’s difficult against a good team like Ireland without possession.”
Although a tough loss for Italy women’s rugby, the game also marked an important milestone for Barratin, who became the first Italian woman to 100 caps. She is the eighth woman to cross that threshold and the first centurion outside of the United Kingdom.
Barratin's 100th Cap - Photo by Alessandro Sabattini - World Rugby via Getty Images
“She's the first player in Italy [to win 100 caps], I hope she's not the last,” Di Giandomenico told World Rugby. “I think it's a mirror from all those years when we fought against tradition.
"When I started [as coach] and Sara stayed in the squad, we'd never beaten France. OK, now we’ve done that [three times].
“So Sara, at the moment, I think represents all the Italian team. It's the journey, it’s the good and bad of the journey we did together.”
Fortunately for Italy, there was more good to be had. There was everything to play for in round three, as there was a three-way tie in the standings between Italy, Ireland and Scotland. Italy needed to beat Spain with a bonus-point to put itself in the best position possible, and it also needed help from the Scotland vs. Ireland match.
Italy built a 15-3 lead at halftime, as prop Lucia Gai (76) and Sillari scored tries, and the center added a conversion and penalty. But then Spain closed to 15-10, requiring a big response from the home team. The Azzurre answered through lock Giordana Duca (24) and flyhalf Veronica Madia (25), both of whom scored tries, while Sillari added another conversion (27-10). The game closed with a penalty try, as Barattin was tackled off the ball while in scoring position: 34-10 the final.
“Probably the turning point of the tournament was the week between the defeat against Ireland and this game against Spain,” Di Giandomenico said. “The way we handled the pressure was impressive, to go on and play well and not make mistakes like we had done in the last game.
Michela Sillari scores Italy's second try in their Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier with Spain at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on 25 September, 2021 in Parma, Italy. (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini - World Rugby
“The players must take all of the credit for this result [against Spain] and what we have to come in the future, because they work so hard for each other and love to represent their country. I feel like Italy deserves to go straight to the World Cup with the way we have played in recent matches.”
Di Giandomenico got his wish, as Scotland beat Ireland 20-18 in round three to put Italy atop the qualifier standings.
Italy did not contest any fall tests like the rest of the women’s rugby Six Nations field, but there’s good experience and exciting young talent in the 33-player squad. All of the aforementioned players are in the pool, and Furlan is again captain. The 33-year-old is one seven players with more than 50 caps, and they contrast with six uncapped players, including two teenagers in Emma Stevanin and Alessandra Frangipani.
Italy opens the 2022 tournament on Sunday, March 27 in France, and then hosts reigning champion England in England in round two. Click here for the full women’s rugby Six Nations schedule and details on how to watch all of the games.
FIXTURES & RESULTS
27 March - Italy 6 - 39 France
3 April - Italy 0 - 74 England
10 April - Italy 8 - 29 Ireland
23 April - Italy v Scotland @ 19:20 UK
30 April - Italy v Wales 12:00 UK
Player – Age (as of March 27, 2022) / Club / Position / Caps
Sara Barattin – 35/Arredissima Villorbas/Scrumhalf/101
Beatrice Capomaggi – 24/Arredissima Villorba/Center/4
Alyssa D’Inca – 20/Arredissima Villorba/Center/4
Manuela Furlan – 33/Arredissima Villorba/Full-back/81
Francesca Granzotto – 20/Unione Rugby Capitolina/Wing/0
Veronica Madia – 27/Rugby Colorno/Flyhalf/25
Maria Magatti – 29/CUS Milano/Wing/38
Aura Muzzo – 24/Arredissima Villorba/Center/20
Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi – 20/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Wing/9
Beatrice Rigoni – 26/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Center/49
Michela Sillari – 29/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Center/63
Sofia Stefan – 29/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Wing/62
Emma Stevanin – 19/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Flyhalf/0
Ilaria Arrighetti – 29/Stade Rennais/Backrow/51
Francesca Barro – 22/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Prop/0
Ilaria Bettoni – 30/Stade Rennais/Hooker/64
Giordana Duca – 29/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Lock/24
Valeria Fedrighi – 29/Toulouse/Lock/28
Alessandra Frangipani – 18/Villorba Rugby/Backrow/0
Giada Franco – 25/Rugby Colorno/Backrow/21
Lucia Gai – 30/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Prop/76
Elisa Giordano – 31/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Backrow/49
Isabella Locatelli – 27/Rugby Colorno/Backrow/28
Gaia Maris – 20/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Hooker/6
Alessia Margotti – 22/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Backrow/0
Michela Merlo – 35/Rugby Colorno/Prop/11
Francesca Sberna – 29/Calvisano/Backrow/6
Sara Seye – 21/Kawasaki Robot Calvisano/Prop/2
Emanuela Stecca – 25/Villorba Rugby/Hooker/0
Sara Tounesi – 26/ASM Romagnat/Prop/18
Silvia Turani – 26/FC Grenoble/Prop/16
Vittoria Vecchini – 20/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Hooker/3
Beatrice Veronese – 26/Valsugana Rugby Padova/Backrow/7