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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

#WRWC2017 Team Profile: Italy

#WRWC2017 Team Profile: Italy

Italy return to the Women’s Rugby World Cup stage after a gap of 15 years. While top seeds England are the standout team in Pool B, the ninth-ranked Azzurre will fancy their chances of edging out Spain and the USA, the two sides immediately above them in the current World Rugby Rankings.

ITALY

Head Coach: Andrea di Giandomenico
Team Captain: Sara Barattin
Women’s Rugby World Cup Record: 1991 (Plate semi-finalists), 1998 (Twelfth), 2002 (Twelfth)
Current World Ranking: 9th

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WRWC 2017 Fixtures:

Pool B –

USA v Italy, UCD Bowl, 4.30pm, Wednesday, August 9
England v Italy, Billings Park, UCD, 2.30pm, Sunday, August 13
Italy v Spain, UCD Bowl, 2.45pm, Thursday, August 17

Play-Offs –

Semi-Finals, Kingspan Stadium/Ranking Games, Queen’s University, Tuesday, August 22
Finals, Kingspan Stadium/Ranking Games, Queen’s University, Saturday, August 26

Best WRWC Moment: The current Italian squad will feel that the country’s best WRWC moment is yet to come. Their high-points in past tournament history include wins over Sweden (18-0 – 1991), Germany (34-5 – 1998), Russia (51-7 – 1998) and Japan (30-3 – 2002). Qualifying for the World Cup on merit for the first time – via the 2015 and 2016 Six Nations – has really been their best achievement, overcoming Scotland (twice), France and Wales (twice). Now it is time to back up those impressive results.

Soundbites: Flavia Severin – “Representing my country in two sports (rugby and boxing) is not easy, so of course it makes me very proud that I am able to do it. It’s something spontaneous for me, I’ve never asked myself why I’m involved in two sports.

“I play rugby and box because I enjoy both sports. Maybe I’m just lucky physically, so I should probably thank my parents for that! I started playing rugby when I was six because my older brother played. When I was young my older brother was my idol, the person I looked up to, so I started from there.

“My passion for rugby grew, I met my friends and I played with them through to Under-12s. I started boxing when I was 26, so I’ve only been training for five years. I just started for fun when rugby training finished, it was a way to keep myself fit. Boxing has definitely helped me to grow as a person and as a rugby player because it helps you to learn what you’re capable of, it puts you to the test as an individual.

“To play in the World Cup will be a dream come true. I’ve represented the national team during a 15-year period in which they were not able to qualify. It gives us great pride to be able to play at such a huge tournament. To have a successful tournament, we, as Italy, need to be ourselves and fight hard for our victories.

“We need to show how we play rugby, that we can be strong and we know how to move the ball and that we are a tight group of friends as well as talented athletes. We spend a lot of time together and I think that unity will help us moving forward.”

Silvia Gaudino – “The 2002 World Cup was one of my first experiences on the international stage, I’d only played the European Championship the previous season. The World Cup is so much more, it was a great experience and one I greeted with such enthusiasm, like a child experiencing something new for the first time.

“Everything was so strange, I lived two weeks of unforgettable emotions, trying to learn as much as I could from the most experienced girls. Women’s rugby has developed massively in the last 15 years. The game is faster, more skilful and physical and there are more players. Grassroots women’s rugby in Italy is strong and it is now commonly accepted for a girl to play rugby, which wasn’t the case when I was younger.

“The team developed a lot over the last few seasons and we’ve achieved some great results. I’ve no doubt we deserve the place (at the World Cup) but we need to prove it every time. I think in our pool anything can happen. Of course, England are a team we know well because we play them every year, but as for Spain and USA…who knows! We haven’t played either of them for years so we’ll just have to wait and see who has made the most improvement.”

Did You Know?: Evergreen duo Veronica Schiavon and Silvia Gaudino – both 35 – are the only members of Italy’s Dublin-bound squad that played at the 2002 World Cup in Barcelona. Between them, the veteran out-half and flanker have 145 international caps between them. That is a huge tally when you consider that six of their 2017 WRWC team-mates are either uncapped or have six caps at the most.

Team Profile: The Italy Women have looked on enviously at the last three Women’s Rugby World Cups, their absence from the 2006, 2010 and 2014 tournaments making their presence in Dublin and Belfast next month all the more significant.

However, rather than be happy with their lot as WRWC qualifiers, they are not flying to Ireland to just make up the numbers. Andrea di Giandomenico’s side want to break new ground by securing Italy’s highest ever World Cup finish.

Two years ago the Azzurre entered the record books by finishing third in the Six Nations – something no Italian men’s or women’s team had achieved before. Victories over Scotland (31-8), France (17-12) and Wales (23-5) made it a dream 2015 season and went a long way to booking that World Cup berth.

WRWC qualification was ticked off a year later thanks to a 22-7 defeat of Scotland in muddy Bologna, an historic and unforgettable day for captain Sara Barattin and her team-mates. Speaking at the time, she said: “We’re very proud that we’ve achieved this goal. The fact that only 12 teams will be at the World Cup, it makes it even more prestigious.”

What has helped head coach di Giandomenico is that Italy can bank on a largely settled starting line-up, this year’s Six Nations seeing the likes of scrum half Barattin, back-three stars Manuela Furlan and Michela Sillari (pictured above) and key forwards Melissa Bettoni, who scored two tries last time out against Scotland, and Elisa Giordano in ever-present, string-pulling form.

A lot of Italy’s best attacks go through Barattin, a clever tactician and game-breaker, and Harlequins pair Furlan and Sillari. Full-back Furlan had a hand in all three of Italy’s tries against England in February, while her club-mate Sillari starred with a brace in Aylesford Bulls’ Women’s Premiership final success against Bristol in April.

The multi-talented Beatrice Rigoni (pictured below), who turns 22 next week, is a player who could shine in the coming weeks. Blessed with great vision and skills on both sides of the ball, she played at inside centre when Veronica Schiavon wore the number 10 jersey in 2015 and 2016.

This year saw Rigoni make five successive starts for Italy at out-half before most recently helping Padova to retain the Serie A title. She stamped her authority on the club final against Colorno, scoring 12 points and featuring prominently in attack during the 32-0 triumph.

It leaves the Italian management with a welcome selection headache, as they have the option of reuniting the Schiavon-Barattin half-back partnership and moving Rigoni to inside centre, or keeping the latter at 10 and using Schiavon, the holder of a record 78 caps and scorer of a record 382 points, as an impact sub.

The Azzurre’s final squad of 28 includes two uncapped players, Colorno lock Sara Tounesi (22) and outside back Aura Muzzo from Pordenone. The youngest member of the squad at just 20, Muzzo benefited from game-time during the recent Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Grand Prix Series.

Padova’s Claudia Salvadego (22), who made her debut against Ireland in February, twice-capped Verona lock Valeria Fedrighi (24) and Colorno out-half/centre Veronica Madia (22), who won her third cap in the spring, are also relatively recent additions.

As with every level of the international game, male or female, Italy pride themselves on a combative pack that possesses strong set piece structures and a number of powerful ball carriers, including aforementioned hooker Bettoni and 90kg lock Flavia Severin (who has also boxed internationally for her country).

Severin will make her 50th Test appearance next time out, making her the eighth player in di Giandomenico’s squad to hit the half-century mark. She packs down behind two seasoned props in Elisa Cucchiella (62 caps) and Lucia Gai (47).

Their intensive summer training camps at the Olympic Training Centre in Tirrenia should help the Italians put their best foot forward in Ireland. Their winless run in the recent Six Nations would have dented confidence slightly, although di Giandomenico admitted they did not want to hit top speed too soon in 2017. “It was a ‘soft’ approach. It was in line with the needs of the squad, with some new players coming in and gaining experience,” he said.

He also pointed to the fact that they were the only team in the Six Nations to score three tries against Grand Slam champions England. Having slipped from seventh to tenth and now ninth in the World Rankings, the Italians are eager to jump back over both the USA, whom they face on day 1 in Dublin, and Spain – their final round opponents.

A strong start against the Americans holds the key to the Azzurre’s World Cup plans, and although they have not played any international warm-up games, di Giandomenico remains confident that improvements in the players’ strength and conditioning should bear fruit in Belfield. #BringIt

For more on the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, visit the tournament website – www.rwcwomens.com. Buy your match tickets for #WRWC2017 now on www.ticketmaster.co.uk/wrwc2017 and www.ticketmaster.ie/wrwc2017.

Injury Replacement: Elisa Bonaldo (Rugby Colorno) has replaced Claudio Salvadego (Valsugana Rugby Padova) in the squad

ITALY WRWC 2017 Squad РBacks (12): Sara Barattin (Villorba Rugby) (capt), Elisa Bonaldo (Rugby Colorno), Beatrice Rigoni (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Veronica Schiavon (Yokohama TKM), Maria Grazia Cioffi (Rugby Colorno), Manuela Furlan (Harlequins), Veronica Madia (Rugby Colorno), Maria Magatti (Rugby Monza 1949), Aura Muzzo (Pordenone Rugby), Michela Sillari (Harlequins), Sofia Stefan (Stade Rennais), Paola Zangirolami (Valsugana Rugby Padova).

Forwards (16): Elisa Cucchiella (Rugby Belve Neroverdi), Marta Ferrari (Stade Rennais), Lucia Gai (Stade Rennais), Gaia Giacomoli (Rugby Colorno), Melissa Bettoni (Stade Rennais), Lucia Cammarano (Asd Rugby Monza 1949), Valeria Fedrighi (Verona Rugby), Valentina Ruzza (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Flavia Severin (Benetton Treviso), Sara Tounesi (Rugby Colorno), Alice Trevisan (Rugby Riviera 1975), Ilaria Arrighetti (Stade Rennais), Michela Este (Benetton Treviso), Silvia Gaudino (Rugby Monza 1949), Elisa Giordano (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Isabella Locatelli (Rugby Monza 1949).

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