Italy look like the ideal opposition to get Gregor Townsend’s international coaching career off to a winning start, although he is sure to point to the Azzurri’s shock win over Ireland in the U20s World Championships as a warning sign.
Since beating the Springboks last November, Conor O’Shea’s team have posted six consecutive losses, falling to Tonga,one week later, before suffering a whitewash in the Six Nations.
If anything, this Italian quad is noticeably weaker than the one that Scotland beat 29-0 on the last weekend of the championship. The talismanic leader Sergio Parisse is being rested along with several other expereinced heads including Luke McLean, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Lorenzo Cittadini and George Biagi.
Meanwhile, former Glasgow flanker Simone Favaro can’t find a club and has been dropped by the national selectors too.
Perhaps the most damaging loss is that of Brendan Venter, who conjured up the “no ruck” play that so discombobulated Eddie Jones’ England side at Twickenham.
Venter is officially Italy’s defensive expert but he was also the hands-on coach throughout the Six Nations campaign and he has since taken up the same defensive role with his native South Africa, while keeping the Italian job on the side. Goodness knows what he will do when the two teams meet in RWC’19 (one half per side?) but whatever happens then, he isn’t available for this tour.
On the plus side O’Shea will be able to call upon one trophy winner in the form of Exeter’s excellent midfielder Michele Campagnaro, who was a late replacement in that thrilling final against Wasps, and Glasgow winger Leonardo Sarto who missed most of the season.
Scrum half Tito Tibaldi gets a recall to the senior squad at the age of 29 for the first time since winning his last cap in the summer of 2014. Finally the misnamed tighthead prop Simone Ferrari should add to his two caps after missing the Six Nations due to injury.