November 2018 Test Matches

Italy vs Australia

 Saturday, November 17th

Venue: Stadio Euganeo, Padua
Kick-off: 15:00 Local Time, 14:00 GMT, 16:00 SA Time
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Mike Adamson (Scotland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

The result of this Teat should be a foregone conclusion. Australia versus Italy? Australia to win, by a long way. No.7 in the World Rugby Ranking plays No.13. There is almost 10 whole ranking points between the two teams. Since the beginning of their Test playing years, Australia have won 50,72% of the games they have played, Italy have won just 37,32% of their Tests. (The All Blacks have the best winning ratio in history with 77,51% with South Africa second on 62,09%. England are third on 54,90%.)

Most of Australia’s Tests have been played against teams that rank in the Top 10 in the world, more than half of Italy’s Tests have been against teams that rank somewhere below the Top 10.

On paper then, it is Australia to win.

But we should never ever forget that these foregone conclusions are often nothing of the sort. In their recent history Italy have beaten South Africa 20-18 back in November 2016, they beat Scotland in 2015, France and Ireland in 2013, and Scotland again in 2012. These individual victories prove that the men from Italy can, and sometimes do, surprise far more fancied teams well above them in World Rugby ranking.

In 2018 Italy have had a less than wonderful year, beating just Georgia and Japan, although they ran Scotland close with a 29-27 loss back in March. This poor 2 wins from 9 starts record, a 22,2% winning record in 2018, does not suggest that they will beat the Wallabies this time around.

Of course, the Aussies have had an absolutely horrendous year too. Their record of 3 wins in 11 games is just ever so slightly better than the Italian winning record, with a 27% win to loss ratio.

Both teams have had particularly poor years. Based on simply their winning and losing records in 2018 the aforementioned “foregone conclusion” becomes less foregone and less conclusive!

Of course, this is all just playing with numbers. I am simply padding out this pre-Test preview as I look for something to say about the two teams. No matter which way you look at the stats and records, sheer logic tells you that the Wallabies must be favourites to win this Test.

Or are they?

There has been a recent trend where the powerful and influential seek to denigrate those opposed to them, or those of differing opinion, by bullying and bluster, by ranting on about “fake news” as they go about creating their own preferred version of the “truth.” This is especially true of a certain politician of a strangely orange skin tone and the most impressive comb-over in the history of hairdressing. He simply makes up “facts” and spouts them as undeniable “truths” whenever he gets the opportunity to face a couple of microphones and a battery of TV cameras.

The Aussie rugby coach, Michael Cheika, is of similar persuasion.

He frequently attacks those who have a different opinion to his about events and incidents that happen on a rugby field. His favourite target just happens to be the referees of the world. In recent years he has had a go at almost every referee that has officiated in a game in which a team that he coaches, or has coached, is involved.

Just in 2018 he has had a go at Jerome Garces after the Wallabies lost to the Springboks back in September; earlier in the year he had a go at Pascal Gauzere after the Wallabies lost to Ireland.

In recent memory he has launched into referees such as Romain Poite, when said he was left “bitterly disappointed” by the Frenchman during the Aussies’ 29-9 defeat in 2016 in Wellington. He even reported Poite to World Rugby for having a cup of tea with Steve Hansen the day before the Test.

In November 2017 he somehow escaped punishment when he was caught on camera calling Kiwi referee Ben O’Keefe and his TMO “f****** cheats” as he went about sarcastically applauding decisions that went against Australia during a losing Test against England. The “f****** cheats” comment was made when a possible try was ruled out. The Wallabies lost that one 30-6.

On two occasions during that same Test he walked down the steps from the coaches’ box to the touchline to remonstrate with officials. He was incandescent with rage when Michel Hooper received a yellow card, making him the most carded player in the history of Test rugby.

In August 2017 It was a cryptic comment about Nigel Owens that attracted attention, suggesting that the Welshman was a cheat and that “maybe the script was written”, before the Test against the All Blacks even kicked off.

No referee has escaped Michael Cheika’s tongue, with the likes of Wayne Barnes, Jaco Peyper, George Clancy, Chris Pollock, Glen Jackson…… the list just goes on and on. If you have refereed a game that features a team that Michael Cheika has an affinity for, you will have felt the fury of his tongue.

Which brings us, conveniently to this Test against Italy.

Woe betide Pascal Gauzere if the Wallabies lose this one!

Mr Cheika has not forgiven him for pinging the Wallabies within goal-kicking range for Johnny Sexton to land five to Bernard Foley’s three, and for Ireland to win the Test and the series against Australia.

It was also the game Gauzere yellow-carded Israel Folau for upending Peter O’Mahony in an aerial clash that saw the Irish skipper taken from the field in a with a concussion.

This was the Test where Michael Cheika made a bit of a fuss about refereeing decisions and invited Gauzere to the post-match media conference, which the Frenchman obviously refused.

I would not blame a referee that is just a tiny bit biased against the volatile Mr Cheika, and thus against his team. He has given the referees sufficient cause to dislike him!

And that means that the referee could well be the elephant in the room in Padua against the worst-performing Tier 1 country in the rugby world.

Selection News:

Italy:

Coach Conor O’Shea has made just one change to his starting line-up that will face Australia at Stadio Euganeo in Padua on Saturday.

The only alteration in the team sees Jayden Hayward come in for Luca Sperandio full-back as the Azzurri look to build on last week’s win over Gerogia.

Up front it is the same again, with Leonardo Ghiraldini leading Italy in a front-row alongside Andrea Lovotti and Simone Ferrari.

Australia:

Jordan Petaia and Jake Gordon will make their Wallabies debuts in Padua as Michael Cheika backs some new faces to get the job done against Italy.

The pair are among six changes to the matchday 23 for the Wallabies second end-of-year tour Test

Petaia will become the youngest Australian debutant since James O’Connor in 2008 and the third-youngest ever, behind Brian Ford and O’Connor, when he runs out on the wing, ironically sharing the outside back job with the most-capped player in the squad, Adam Ashley-Cooper.

Gordon has also been thrown straight into a starting spot, with Nick Phipps dropping out of the 23, while Will Genia is named on the bench.

Ashley-Cooper hasn’t played a Test in more than two years but re-joined the Wallabies squad two weeks ago in the first step towards a chance at a fourth Rugby World Cup berth.

This means Israel Folau returns to full-back for the first time since the first Bledisloe Test in Sydney.

Matt Toomua will finally take the main playmaking role for the first time since his return to Australia, pushing Bernard Foley to 12 and Kurtley Beale onto the bench.

Tolu Latu has been dropped from the side, with Folau Fainga’a and Tatafu Polota-Nau the preferred hookers, but Cheika has stayed with his first-choice second-row in Izack Rodda and Adam Coleman.

Interestingly, Cheika has also opted against giving two of his hardest workers in David Pocock and Michael Hooper a rest, starting the back-row workhorses together with Jack Dempsey for the second week in a row.

On the bench, Jermaine Ainsley, Rory Arnold and Pete Samu have all earned a recall to the 23.

Cheika has left youngsters Tom Banks and Jack Maddocks out of the 23.

Thoughts:

There is not much one can really say about this Test.

The Toomua-Foley pairing is the only combination in the team that has not been tested at any level before, either at national or club level. Bernard Foley has played at 12 before, back in 2016 when Quade Cooper was the starting 10 during the Rugby Championship.

There is some interest in how this combination might work.

This is also the first time Kurtley Beale has come off the bench in a Test since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

For the rest, the Wallabies just look as if they have far too many heavy guns than the Italians. If I may stay with the military analogy; artillery is often called the “Queen of the Battlefield’ and gives the side that has that artillery a distinct advantage over the side that does not have the big guns. The Aussie guns might not be firing accurately or smoothly in 2018, but then the Italian infantry has not covered itself with glory either.

In this Test, the Aussies just have too many guns.

Michael Cheika has a chance to test some of his lesser guns, the smaller calibres, and has taken the opportunity to make some changes in his line-up as Jordan Petaia and Jake Gordon are each handed debuts, while a reenlisted  veteran, Adam Ashley-Cooper, is also given a chance to show that he is still able to hold a rifle.

Israel Folau gets a run at full-back, and is likely to take the opportunity to rip some holes in the weaker Italian defences. The Italians are not likely to test his positional weaknesses much, and he should have some fun with wayward kicks onto him.

Prediction:

This Wallabies outfit may struggle to put it all together early in the game, and fatigue might play a role, especially amongst the forwards, but it is unlikely that Italy will present too many problems.

Australia to win by 15 points, or more.

The Teams:

Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Abraham Jurgens Steyn, 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (c), 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traorè, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Marco Fuser, 20 Johan Meyer, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Luca Morisi

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Bernard Foley, 11 Jordan Petaia, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Jermaine Ainsley, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Will Genia, 22 Kurtley Beale, 23 Dane Haylett-Petty