TORONTO - The rugby world has an established pecking order.
The All Blacks, Wallabies, and Springboks of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa respectively are at the top.
They are occasionally challenged by Six Nations combatants England, France, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.
Italy in the next tier with Canada but also being a Six Nations member, it has improved greatly through that winter competition. That’s why the senior men’s national team relishes opportunities such as Friday’s test match at BMO Field against the rugby side which, like the country’s soccer team, is known as the Azzurri.
“It’s a great challenge to have the Italian team in here,” Canadian manager Gareth Rees said. “Obviously a world class team with a ranking ahead of us.”
The match is the middle of a three-game summer series. Canada opened with a 28-25 win over the United States in Kingston last Saturday and will head to Vancouver to face Georgia next weekend. But unlike Italy, those two nations are below Canada in the world rankings so if it is to prove itself as a side capable of competing with the best in the world, Friday’s match will be a good place to start.
Saturday’s game was a chance to shake off some rust as the team hadn’t played since its World Cup campaign in New Zealand last October. So it was expected that coach Kieran Crowley would see some room for improvement.
“We were happy with the result, but we squandered a lot of opportunities through not seeing the space and through our own mistakes,” Crowley told Rugby Canada. “We attacked the areas that we wanted to attack, but didn’t do so well with our continuity after that.”
“Italy will be a lot stronger than the USA, so we won’t get away with the mistakes we made last week. Cutting out the errors in our game is the big focus for us, and if we can improve our continuity, then the points will come.”
Canada will have four changes to its pack from that game, as prop Jason Marshall, hooker Mike Pletch, lock Jebb Sinclair, and flanker Tyler Adron come into the starting lineup. Wingers Phil Mackenzie and Conor Trainor also get their first action with the side in a while.
Aaron Carpenter took over the captaincy from Pat Riordan this season. The No. 8 will have veterans Hubert Buydens, Chauncey O’Toole, DTH Van Der Merwe, and James Pritchard among the side that went 1-2-1 at last year’s World Cup.
Italy, who is coming north off a 37-22 defeat in Argentina last week, will be without injured captain Sergio Parisse but Martin Castrogiovanni will more than fill the void with his 86 caps for country. Veteran Alessandro Zanni (64 caps) will also be in the lineup as will Robert Barbieri, a 27-year-old flanker who was born in Toronto and played on the Canadian under-19 team prior to moving to Italy.
Canada is 2-4 all-time against Italy with the last win coming in 2000. Friday’s match begins at 7 p.m. and will be shown on TSN.