(Eds: Clarifies attribution of quote to Adam Ashley-Cooper in 11th par)
By Jim Morton
TURIN, Italy, Nov 4 AAP – Beware the Italian job.
A Wallabies side already hit hard by their deflating loss to England is braced for a hungry and improving Azzurri outfit which will smell blood in Turin on Sunday morning (AEDT).
Italy have lost all 15 Tests they have played against Australia but they are no longer the poor cousins of the Six Nations in Europe, nor international pushovers.
The Azzurri broke through to upset France in Rome this year and almost took the Wallabies’ scalp 12 months ago with a spirited Florence fightback before falling 22-19.
“They’ve performed well in the Six Nations so they will be looking at this game, really licking their lips and thinking they are a legitimate chance of beating us,” said stalwart three-quarter Adam Ashley-Cooper.
“They will be really motivated.”
Flanker Michael Hooper well remembers a second-half battering in Florence and is expecting the same physical onslaught from an abrasive pack, which plays similarly to Argentina and can scrum just as powerfully.
“They’re a passionate bunch and once they get their tails up they run with it, so we can’t let that happen,” Hooper said.
As well as last year’s narrow result, Italy scared the life out of Australia in 2008 when it took a Quade Cooper try on debut to get the tourists out of jail.
While most Australian rugby fans view this weekend’s clash as the easiest of the five Tests on tour, the Wallabies certainly don’t.
“We don’t play them often,” Ashley-Cooper said. “And they have that game of unpredictability and that’s dangerous.
“You can’t really anticipate how they are going to play. You know they’re going to bring a lot of passion and physicality but you never know how the game is going to turn out.”
Townsville-born fullback Luke McLean is in line to start for the Azzurri who have also selected former Scottish under-20 five-eighth Tommy Allan in their 30-man squad.
While coach Jaques Brunel will miss veteran back Andrea Masi, renowned forward duo Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiavanni will lead them up front in their 99th Tests.
Australia may be forced to make at least one back-row change with Scott Fardy to pass concussion tests after copping a heavy knock in the 20-13 loss to England at Twickenham.
It wouldn’t surprise if Ewen McKenzie makes rotational changes to his starting pack in what will be the 12th Test of the year for several forwards.
In-form Hooper is one who has played them all, on top of a heavy Super Rugby schedule, but doesn’t want to let go of the No.7 jersey.
“It has been a long year but every time you get to Thursday and you want to play,” he said. “The body is alright to be honest.”