RBS Six Nations 2013 - Italy preview
The 2013 Six Nations could well be the chance for Italy to throw down a marker for the future.
By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter @SkysportsTC
Last Updated: 28/01/13 2:55pm
Coach Jacques Brunel has kicked on from where Nick Mallett and John Kirwan left off and he is developing a side capable of causing a few problems.
Brunel has been helped by the fact the players are being exposed to a higher level of rugby via the inclusion of Treviso and Zebre in the Heineken Cup and the RaboDirect PRO12.
And having avoided the wooden spoon with victory over Scotland in last season's championship, Brunel is keen to kick on.
The Azzurri pushed Argentina close in the summer before recording victories over the USA, Canada and Tonga for their longest-ever winning streak in 14 years.
Italy then gave New Zealand plenty to think about before being blown away by a late flurry of tries before Australia only just escaped Rome with 22-19 victory.
And with three home games in this season's championship - against France, Wales and Ireland - Italy will be targeting another run of wins.
Sergio Parisse remains their talisman - as part of a talented back-row of Robert Barbieri and Alessandro Zanni - while Luciano Orquera and Tommaso Benvenuti have impressed under Brunel's attacking regime.
Coach: Jacques Brunel
Captain: Sergio Parisse
Key man: Sergio Parisse
Last season: 5th
SkyBet Odds: 200/1
Prediction: 5th - Have the potential to be the dark horses of the championship. They have an established squad and game plan under Jacques Brunel and were on the verge of beating Australia in the autumn internationals. France, Wales and Ireland will not fancy travelling to Stadio Olimpico.