Italy will look to improve their finishing position in the Six Nations competition this year and avoid taking home the wooden spoon yet again. Another dismal showing in this year's tournament will pile the pressure on Mallet, who took over the role as head coach in 2007. Since his involvement, the Azzurri have only won one game in two Six Nations tournaments and have conceded an average of 26 points a game. In November, Italy beat Samoa 24-6 but unsurprisingly lost to the rugby super powers of South Africa and New Zealand. Still, there are glimmers of hope in the squad of Italian stallions, but it's going to be a tough ask for Italy to finish any higher than sixth this year.
Here are my ratings:
The scrum is the main area of strength for Italy, with Leicester's Samson-esque Martin Castrogiavanni fit and named in the squad to face Ireland on February 6. Strength is the keyword, as the Italian pack will also feature Mauro Bergamasco, Carlo del Fava and Marco Bortelami. There is one glaring omission however: Sergio Parisse, the Stade Français number eight and arguably the best eight man in the world. Parisse will miss the entire tournament with a knee injury which is a massive blow for Italy.
Italy need to win the vast majority of their set piece play to build pressure on their opposition, especially as the Italian backline isn't exactly electrifying.
Attacking Flair: 24/100.
Zzzzzzzzz. Don't get me wrong, Italy's backs will have a go, but in the recent past they generally ended up drawing a blank. Oh, and a flanker playing at scrum-half is a BAD idea Mr. Mallet - just in case you're thinking of repeating last year's torrid Mauro Bergamasco experiment. He was so bad he made England's Ugo Monye look like an accomplished international full back. Yes, really.
Let's look at the stats. I have to say they're not pretty. Since the start of last year's Six Nations, Italy have played 11 games, won one, and conceded and average of 29 points per game. In the ten games they lost, the points difference was an average of 22. By giving teams a 20 point head start, Italy are going to struggle to grasp any victory. Maybe that's why Nick Mallet is realistically targeting a 15 point margin for this year's tournament.
Stadio Flaminio. Capacity 42,000.
Snore Factor: 76/100.
The uplifting Italian national anthem and Rome's bright cobalt blue skies enliven the rugby spectating experience when Italy play at home. When they're playing away, they'll still have their never ending anthem but other than that they're a bit dull. Chances of their opposition running in a rake of tries is high though, which should stop the crowd from dozing off.
Phwoargh Factor: 90/100.
Brothers Mauro and Mirco Bergamasco both featured in this year's Dieux Du Stade calendar and they are sort of good looking. However, the new Dolce and Gabbana campaign featuring several of the Italian team kicked the Bergamasco brother's efforts well and truly into touch. Behold:
Sergio Parisse, Denis Dallan, Ezio Galon, Andrea Masi and Gonzalo Canale as you've never seen them before.
Scandal Potential: 12/100.
Low. I really can't think of anything particularly scandalous with the Italian team. Well, maybe apart from the pants they're wearing in the above picture.
As for the final standings:
Last season: 6th.
Prediction for this season: 6th.