NICE, France (AP) — Ange Capuozzo is restored to fullback and Italy looks logical again.
Capuozzo was on the wing and Tommaso Allan at fullback in Italy's Rugby World Cup opener against Namibia two weekends ago. The Namibians weren't good enough to fully test the combination and the experiment passed without a hitch in Italy's flattering 52-8 win in Saint-Etienne.
But Uruguay's challenge on Wednesday will be another step up.
Los Teros have consistently stated they have a bulls-eye on the Azzurri, and Italy coach Kieran Crowley shuffled his backline on Monday to resettle players in natural or club positions.
So Capuozzo was moved from the wing to fullback.
Tommaso Allan was moved from fullback to flyhalf.
Paolo Garbisi was moved from flyhalf to inside center, where he'll start a test for the first time.
Capuozzo was a revelation last year and earned recognition as the world breakthrough player of 2022 for a resurgent Italy. But after a bright start to this year with a try against France in the Six Nations, he was gone after round three because of a shoulder injury. He reappeared in April but reinjured the shoulder after 13 minutes of action for Toulouse and didn't play again until only a month ago, marking his test return with two tries against Romania.
Crowley was happy to put him back where he belongs.
“You know what he does from 15. He will probably have more opportunities to have the ball in his hands,” Crowley said.
“But you can only do that if the guys up front do the job. All games start up front. If we can get some go-forward ball then he has the opportunity to influence the game. You can't influence the game if you don’t win the gain-line battle.”
Crowley, a former fullback and World Cup winner for New Zealand, believed Capuozzo could be as good as he wants to be if he keeps working hard and managing expectations.
“It's like any player when they burst into the scene. It's easy (the) first year as no-one knows you, you live in a bubble,” Crowley said. "The first year you come onto the scene you have a great one, it's the second year that tells you the direction you’re going to go.
"You have to keep working on your game and handle the pressure of what other teams put on you. Also the pressures of the press and supporters.
“As far as Ange is concerned he is handling it very well. We try to manage his commitment as he is a player who is asked to be at everything and you can't do that. You have to look after these guys so we are managing things around him. But it's performance on the paddock that determines how these things go.”
One flaw of Capuozzo's, the coach added, was how well he rated himself at soccer. “I don't think he is that good at it even if he says he is,” he said with a smile.
Alessandro Garbisi, the younger brother of Paolo, will make his Rugby World Cup debut at scrumhalf, and there's another tournament debut for 6-foot-4 Zebre wing Lorenzo Pani, who debuted in July.
Marco Riccioni, fully recovered from a knee injury in the Ireland warmup loss, starts at tighthead prop among four changes to the side.
Uruguay gave a good show against France last Thursday, when it trailed 13-12 after 55 minutes and lost 27-12. But Los Teros have reloaded after resting two of their most experienced players, hooker German Kessler and wing Gaston Mieres.
Both will appear in their third Rugby World Cup.
Uruguay's performance ensured Italy was geared for a tough match.
“I saw a very aggressive team with great passion, which fought furiously for every ball and proved to be competitive from a physical point of view,” said Italy flanker Sebastian Negri, who plays his 50th test on Wednesday. “They are a very dangerous team.”
Italy: Ange Capuozzo, Lorenzo Pani, Juan Ignacio Brex, Paolo Garbisi, Montanna Ioane, Tommaso Allan, Alessandro Garbisi; Lorenzo Cannone, Michele Lamaro (captain), Sebastian Negri, Federico Ruzza, Niccolò Cannone, Marco Riccioni, Giacomo Nicotera, Danilo Fisichetti. Reserves: Luca Bigi, Federico Zani, Pietro Ceccarelli, Dino Lamb, Manuel Zuliani, Giovanni Pettinelli, Alessandro Fusco, Paolo Odogwu.
Uruguay: Baltazar Amaya, Gaston Mieres, Tomas Inciarte, Andres Vilaseca (captain), Nicolas Freitas, Felipe Etcheverry, Santiago Arata; Manuel Diana, Santiago Civetta, Manuel Ardao, Manuel Leindekar, Felipe Aliaga, Ignacio Peculo, German Kessler, Mateo Sanguinetti. Reserves: Guillermo Pujadas, Facundo Gattas, Diego Arbelo, Ignacio Dotti, Carlos Deus, Agustin Ormaechea, Felipe Berchesi, Bautista Basso.
AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby