Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he is expecting surprises from unpredictable Italy in Saturday’s Test in Brisbane as the hosts grope for form after last week’s surprise loss to Scotland.
Italy’s canny Irish coach Conor O’Shea has already flummoxed rugby heavyweights England and South Africa over the past 12 months with what has euphemistically been called “creative” rugby.
The Italians upset the Springboks 20-18 in Florence last November, but it was the “offside trap” tactic that bedevilled England and led coach Eddie Jones to wail: “If that’s rugby, I’m going to retire. That’s not rugby.”
England went on to beat Italy 36-15 to stay on course for back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slams last February, but the result was overshadowed by the debate about their tactics.
The perennial Six Nations underdogs led England 10-5 at half-time after repeatedly refusing to commit anyone other than the tackler to the breakdown, meaning no ruck was formed.
Cheika said the Wallabies would be prepared for anything Italy throw at them this weekend.
“They’ve got a track record of doing that and we’ve discussed those opportunities that could occur in the game and how we deal with them,” he said.
“They’ve got a clever coaching team. They’ve done that (no ruck tactic) but also two-man lineouts so we’ve got to be aware of those things but not let them override us playing our game.”
The Wallabies have yet to lose in 16 encounters with Italy, but are coming off the much-criticised 24-19 loss to Scotland in Sydney last weekend which prompted six team changes.
The Azzurri promise to be awkward opponents and last weekend lost 22-19 to a dramatic drop goal after the full-time siren against Fiji in Suva.
“We are a team that likes to come up with surprises and cause confusion,” Italian lock Andries van Schalkwyk said.
“We always try to disrupt and number one is being a really hard team for Australia to play against.”
O’Shea added: “Italian rugby has to think outside the norm or else it will never catch up.
“People talk about David versus Goliath — well it wasn’t in a normal fist fight that David won.”
Stephen Moore returns to captain the Wallabies in his 120th Test, surpassing Italian Martin Castrogiovanni and Englishman Jason Leonard to become the 10th most-capped international player.
Cheika made three other changes in the forward pack, with ACT Brumbies pair, prop Scott Sio and lock Rory Arnold, joined by Lopeti Timani at No.8 in place of rookie prop Tom Robertson, lock Sam Carter and No.8 Scott Higginbotham.
“Moore’s obviously the captain of the team and he’s got a lot of experience,” Cheika said.
“Polota-Nau’s still putting out a big challenge to him and I want to give Moore the chance to respond.”
O’Shea has made three changes, bringing in scrum-half Tito Tebaldi to the starting side for the first time in three years, with van Schalkwyk at No.8 and Marco Lazzaroni in line for a debut off the bench.
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