By Tomas Marks
“We don’t talk about Bruno!” is a famous song from Disney’s film Encanto, but very little has been mentioned about the Italian winger Pierre Bruno.
Strange, really, as he has emerged from the shadows of former powerhouse Monty Ioane to become a tour de force on the Italian wing.
Bruno has 10 Italian caps, five international tries and in round three of the Six Nations he made a staggering 155 metres in attack from his 15 carries against the Irish.
The only other back who has gained more metres in attack this championship is Irish full back Hugo Keenan, with a sensational 181 metres from 18 carries against France.
Bruno is a similar build to Ioane in height and weight and he fully uses his 92 kilograms to weaken opposition defences.
The challenge to Wales in Rome on Saturday will be clear.
The Italian “Tricoloure” flag symbolises this current Italian team as the players are playing with freedom, battling for each other in every Test and Kieran Crowley, the coach, has faith in his squad.
Since taking the reins with the Italians, Crowley has vastly improved their attacking game as they have ditched the Crusaders’ 2-4-2 attacking system and use a 1-3-3-1 system with Frederico Ruzza and Lorenzo Cannone in the wide channels in phase play to utilise their height, power and athleticism.
Credit must be given to Crowley as the former All Blacks World Cup 1987 winner utilises the USP of each player.
One example of this is how he takes advantage of centre Ignacio Brex and prop Danillo Fischietti as running and passing threats.
Brex is used as a pivot and he can either run himself, pass the ball to a powerful forward, or pull the ball back to Paolo Garbisi to create some havoc.
The reason Garbisi is highly rated in attack is that he can stress opposition defences. He can pass the ball in front and behind supporting players and cause maximum confusion to international defenders.
Garbisi – alongside Finn Russell and Quade Cooper – is one of those renowned fly-halves with great deception skills. They make defenders change body shape and line speed with eye and head movement.
The progress Italy have made in the last 12 months has been heartwarming but they must now cope with a new sensation; expectation.@aksmackenzie chats exclusively to Kieran Crowley about the Azzurri's ambition, passion and 'free hit' at the World Cup…https://t.co/j9DyccTvyG
— RugbyPass+ (@RugbyPassPlus) March 10, 2023
Garbisi’s Brilliance Exposes Ireland’s Weaknesses: A Lesson for Bundee Aki and James Lowe
After Italy had given Ireland a scare in the last round, it wouldn’t have been pleasant viewing for Bundee Aki and James Lowe on the Stephen Varney score in the analysis session, as they were left red-faced by the brilliance of Garbisi.
Ireland were exposed in the 13 channel on a number of occasions and it won’t be a surprise if Andy Farrell ditches playing two twelves in the Irish centres.
Italy are without the sensational Ange Capuozzo through injury but Tommaso Allan has 69 caps and coach Crowley is a former NZ full-back so he has lots of additional knowledge to help him start his second as an international 15.
Potentially, Italy could utilise Garbisi and Allan as double playmakers and they have already used this to good effect against Samoa in the autumn in their 49-17 victory.
He’s only started twice this season as full-back but he’s won both matches, combining well with Harlequins clubmate Marcus Smith and Garbisi.
Italy have shown excellent physicality in both matches against France and Ireland and have been accurate in their collisions and neutralised the Irish maul and pick-and-go attack in the last round.
They have made some great strides in this tournament but if they are going to contend with Wales on Saturday – and challenge at the World Cup – they will need to fix their defence.
They have leaked 14 tries in three matches and 80% of the tries they conceded against Ireland were short side deficiencies with outside defenders making poor defensive decisions.
The experienced Edoardo Padovani and new star Capuozzo were guilty on two tries and they failed as a back line to prevent Keenan’s try from an impressive Irish line-out strike play.
Crowley has drafted in his former assistant coach at Canada, Neil Barnes, as a line-out maul coach and this has been a good addition. But they need to improve their team defensive communication as they are slow to identify extra attackers and fold in defence – as witnessed from one of Irish winger Mack Hansen’s tries and Matthieu Jalibert’s winning try for France.
Despite showing progress, Italy are vulnerable in defence and Wales can exploit them from a number of areas.
Welsh Attack Needs Spark as They Face Italy in Six Nations Clash
The Irish used a multi-phased attack, England scored a hat-trick of line-out maul tries, and the French scored a brace of tries from cross-field kicks.
It will be fascinating to see the attacking game plan from Wales as we are still waiting for Ken Owens and his troops to actually use the ball in attack.
Alarmingly, Wales have only managed to score 27 points in three matches, nine points per match, and there is no evidence of an Alex King attack.
Wales needs to find a playmaker to unleash the best attacking backs and forwards. Eight-cap international Jarrod Evans is at his physical peak at 26 years of age and he’s one of the best attacking fly-halves in Wales.
With his regional connection with the likes of Taulupe Faletau, half-back partner Tomos Williams, Mason Grady, Josh Adams and Liam Williams, he’s the obvious choice to spark a Welsh revival in attack.
Given that Leigh Halfpenny is back in contention in the wider squad, there seems to be an opportunity to bring Evans back into the fold, post-Six Nations, as he could solely focus on running the attack without the added pressure of being the main goalkicker.
It’s an option for Warren Gatland going forward as Wales have been as dull as dishwater in the opening three rounds.
Unlike previous decades, when they finished appallingly in matches, Italy have stayed in the battle for 80 minutes in this championship and like many Welsh sides of the past they don’t go away.
Gatland hopes to maintain his 100% record against Italy and seven of the group will be exceptionally motivated given the humiliation in Cardiff last season.
It should be a thriller at the Stadio Olimpico.
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