Italy coach Carlo Napolitano, who arrived in Lo Stivale (“the Boot”) from Brisbane at the weekend, trained with his squad for the first time on Monday evening, just two days before the Azzurri play Lebanon in the first of a two-match series.
The preparation time has been mitigated by the timing of the Italian championship, which finished two weeks ago with a Piacenza victory, ensuring that the players will not go into the internationals underdone and with positive energy coursing through the squad.
“The level of intensity that everyone is consistently showing is a credit to the game of rugby league and to the future of it in Italy,” said Napolitano. “We are very proud of everyone for taking the time to analyze our game plan and of how passionate the players are at training and in their preparation.”
The squad, which will later be joined by its Australian-based contingent ahead of the October series in Wales, has been disrupted by the withdrawal of five players. Hooker Johnny Grasso and strike centre Giovanni Franchi are notable losses to a group that will be keen to avenge Italy’s 86-0 loss to Lebanon in last year’s European Cup in Tripoli.
“Judging by the previous two training sessions, the games will be exciting and full of enthusiasm,” said the former Salford Super League player. “Everyone is clicking really well as a team and we have definitely bridged the gap between the style of play that everyone is used to at their own level.”
Lebanon’s preparation has been better. Although they have been under the control of coach Rob Powell for only a week and will need to absorb his game-plan rapidly, their train-on squad has been together most of the summer. A knee injury sustained by reserve prop Mohammed Akkar in training has reduced the touring party to 18-men, but Ibrahim Ballout will come into the squad for the MENA Championship next month.
ITALY (probable): D. Wilson, P. Veronese, T. Robuschi, E. Lerna, F. Pavia ; L. Zollo, R. Fontana ; A. Barzan, J. Marcinczak, M. Orfano, R. Quitadamo, M. Sands, J. Dubas-Fisher. Subs: L. Torregiani, F. Grotti, J. Bonfiglio, F. Nannini, M. Soligo
LEBANON (probable): A. Bekdache, P. Nasr, M. Jamil, Ru. Hachache, R. Khoury; G. Aroyan, J. Hachem ; M. Finan, P. Rahal, R. Finan; Y. El Helou, N. Saliba, Ro. Hachache. Subs: R. Akel, K. El Rafii, M. Tawil, P. Nasr, S. Mansur