The Italy head coach, Kieran Crowley, believes Uruguay will pose a “massive threat” when the sides meet at Stade de Nice on Wednesday.
After an inspirational display by Los Teros against France last Thursday in Lille, when they trailed by a single point after 55 minutes before losing 27-12, the Azzurri coach is not merely being polite.
Crowley has made four changes to the XV that defeated Namibia 52-8 in their Pool A opener in Saint-Étienne, with Ange Capuozzo switching from wing to full-back, Lorenzo Pani starting on the wing and Alessandro Garbisi selected at scrum-half. The prop Marco Riccione also comes into the starting side along with the second-row Niccolò Cannone.
“Uruguay pose a massive threat,” Crowley said. “I was [coaching] in Canada 15 years ago and they were just starting to get their systems right. They have got a centralised programme in Montevideo and most of their team plays for a club in the American championship [Super Rugby Americas]. Then you add in the players who play in France, and you have got a pretty formidable team.”
The prospect of Capuozzo attacking from full-back is a thrilling one for Italy’s fans and neutrals alike, but given Uruguay’s fierce battle with the French pack last week, Crowley knows space will have to be earned.
“He will probably have more opportunities to have the ball in his hands,” Crowley said of the 24-year-old Capuozzo’s positional switch. “But you can only do that if the guys up front do the job. If we can get some go-forward ball he has the opportunity to influence the game. You can’t influence the game if you don’t win the gainline battle.”
Tommaso Allan, who moves from full-back to fly-half, kicked eight out of eight in the win over Namibia. Another 15 points would see him overtake Diego Domínguez as their leading scorer at Rugby World Cups. Allan at No 10 means Paolo Garbisi plays his first Test match at inside-centre after 23 previous starts for Italy at fly-half.
The Uruguay coach, Esteban Meneses, makes two changes following his team’s admirable display against the host nation. Germán Kessler comes in at hooker with Gastón Mieres, who debuted in 2010 and is playing at his third World Cup, starting on the wing. Four years ago in Japan, Uruguay achieved a memorable win against a Fiji side featuring several players who helped to sensationally defeat Australia in Pool C on Sunday. An upset victory in Nice would mean third place in Pool A – guaranteeing qualification for the next tournament in 2027 – would become a target for Uruguay.
“The tier two countries are getting a hell of a lot closer,” Crowley said of the challenge awaiting Italy on the Côte d’Azur. “Look at all these teams, Uruguay, Chile, Portugal, they have got full-time training programmes.
“The only other thing they’re not getting is consistent competitive games against tier one countries. Once that is sorted out you are going to have a hell of a lot more equilibrium in world rugby.”