Sport Union Wallabies out to avoid disaster in Turin

Wallabies out to avoid disaster in Turin

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Australia have never lost to Italy in 15 rugby internationals and never suffered nine Test defeats in the one calendar year.

But the wounded Wallabies are under immense pressure to avoid disaster as they confront an improved Italian outfit smelling blood in Turin.

The confrontational Azzurri have the wonky Australian scrum in their sights and aim to drain what little confidence is left in the Wallabies by rocking the set-piece from the outset at Stadio Olimpico on Sunday morning (AEDT).

Ewen McKenzie’s men have a 3-8 win-loss record in 2013 and one more loss sets them up for the worst season since the game went professional in 1996.

With Tests against Ireland, Scotland and Wales to come, the unenvied record held by Eddie Jones’ 2005 team of 5-8 (37.5 per cent) would be hard to avoid.

But a loss to Italy, better known for their round-ball exploits, in the home town of Serie A giants Juventus, would put the code in a deep, dark and dire hole.

It looms as a Test where the Wallabies, now viewed as a fading international force, either get themselves back on track at the end of an annus horribilis or the ARU goes into damage control.

Italy are ranked No.12 in the world but took the scalps of both France and Ireland, both in Rome, in this year’s Six Nations to be a definite threat.

Australia’s continued troubles at scrum time, which has prompted McKenzie to fire off a complaint to the IRB referees panel, have the Azzurri forwards licking their lips.

“If there is one point where we can put pressure on Australia then I’m sure it is up front,” said loosehead prop Michele Rizzo.

“If you can dominate at the scrum you can dominate, much better, the game.

“We have to try and attack them with every scrum.”

To counter the scrum threat, McKenzie has made the surprise selection of putting lock Rob Simmons at blindside flanker and keeping bulky pair Sitaleki Timani and James Horwill in the second row.

“It’s a big day for us forwards,” admitted Simmons.

“If we can nullify their forwards, it will go a good way to winning the game.

“They’re very passionate, and emotional … if their forwards get a good roll-on they’re hard to stop.”

McKenzie continues to be upbeat and pointed back to 1982, 1989 and 1997 as history lessons where the Wallabies rebuilt from low points to enjoy their greatest successes in 1984, 1991 and 1999.

“It won’t go down as one of the great years,” he said.

“(But) we’re not miles away. At the start of the season when I took over we were quite far off.

“It depends how you want to look at it but none of that makes me any less anxious about winning.

“As much as it’s a Test on the field, it’s a test of character for everyone, myself included, and I just know there’s a fair bit of fight in the group.”