Exclusive: Italy’s Luca Morisi on France ‘frustration’, his move to Irish & England focus

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To begin their 2023 Guinness Six Nations campaign, Luca Morisi and his Italy teammates nearly pulled off the shock of the round as they fell narrowly short 24-29 to France in Rome.

Thanks to the boot of Tommy Allan and a penalty try in the second-half, Italy led a side that had been unbeaten across 2022 but were unable to hold on as a Matthieu Jalibert try with just over 10 minutes left on the clock meant that last years’ Grand Slam winners got their new campaign off on the right foot.

“The feeling at the whistle was just a little bit of frustration,” Morisi said. “We were so close to winning the game and we knew that we missed something.

“After all the analysis, we know that we missed a lot. We missed a lot of details that we could have won the game.

“We are even more frustrated now, but of course France is one of the best teams in the world, so if you are not perfect, you lose. And that is what happened.”

Last year, Italy showed exactly what strides they have made. Beating Wales in spectacular fashion to conclude last year’s Six Nations and end a 32 game losing record in the competition, Kieran Crowley’s team also beat Australia in the Autumn Nations Series.

Starlet full-back Ange Capuozzo established himself as one of the players to watch in world rugby, while the Italy U20 side which has made such strides in recent years has made an impact on the senior national team, with the emergence of players such as Paolo Garbisi and skipper, Michele Lamaro, taking the team to heights which at one stage seemed impossible.

After years of questioning Italy’s place in the Six Nations, those conversations have now been flipped on their head, with the notion of expanding the competition taking over.

Morisi played the full game as Italy stunned Scotland in 2015 as a penalty try resulted with a shock win at Murrayfield Stadium, although in the years that followed Italy never seemed to get close to another shock result.

Quite why, no one was ever quite able to put their finger on it. Under Jacques Brunel, Conor O’Shea and Franco Smith, the side flat-lined and it was only when Kieran Crowley took top job after five years with Benetton Treviso that things really began to turn a corner.

A former Treviso player himself, Morisi believes that much of much of Italy’s improved fortunes have come thanks to the work done in the north of the country as the side was able to find a new identity.

“I think our past struggles, especially in 2014, 2015, those years, was because we put too much focus on our scrummage,” Morisi said. “Once, we had Castro [Martin Castrogiovanni] and [Andrea] Lo Cicero and as soon as they stopped playing, we kept on playing like that.

“Right now, we are focussed more on our forwards skills, because they are not as powerful, and we are trying to find a new way to express ourselves. This work we started in Treviso two or three years ago and Andrea Masi, who came from Wasps, brought a lot of new energy and ideas.

“So, even Treviso is improving a lot in this aspect. I think this is reflecting in the national team. We are working on the same page.”

These improvements could no more be seen than when Benetton beat Jake White’s Blue Bulls 35-8 in the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup final in 2021, with Crowley taking charge of the national side shortly after and taking what he had learned in Treviso to the national side.

Selecting a large portion of his Italy squad from Treviso too, Crowley has created a side which has plenty of familiarity with one another and named the young Michele Lamaro as his captain after unearthing the flanker in Veneto. 

Add to that some of the mercurial talents that ply their trade overseas, and Italy have begun to show signs of being the side which everyone though they had the capability of being when introduced to the Six Nations at the turn of the millennium.

Following his summer move to London Irish, Morisi is now one of those that plays his domestic rugby outside of Italy. His move to the English capital came after years of injury issues which hampered his career and dampened the 31-year-old’s enjoyment of coming into Italy camp.

“From my point of view, I felt I wasn’t in the right place when I came into camp,” he said. “I felt that there was something wrong, and right now I am enjoying being here and that didn’t happen for a long time.”

With this in mind, it made the approach of the Gallagher Premiership side a year ago all the more interesting to the centre, who only made eight appearances last season.

“In the last few years, I struggled in Treviso,” Morisi said. “I kept on having muscular injuries, later in the year lots of new guys came and they were really good, so my space was a bit closed.

“Then London Irish called me, I spoke with Les [Kiss], Brad [Davis] and Declan [Kidney], and as soon as I spoke with them, I fell in love with their environment and their mentality.

“To make an example, the first thing they asked me before signing was how they could have me going back to the national team, how they could help me outside of rugby. It was an easy choice.

“Also, because of my age, this was the last call to play outside of Italy, and I always wanted the experience, the put myself under pressure and show off in another reality.”

So far this season, Morisi has already played 13 games for his new club, as well as in four Tests for Italy. The most rugby that the centre has played since the Covid hit 2019/20 season, it has come as a relief for the 31-year-old who is enjoying the opportunity to challenge himself in the Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup.

“It is a really tough comp,” Morisi said. “Every week you play against Bristol, Leicester, Gloucester, it is really, really tough. That’s also good, because you learn a lot week in, week out.

“The coaching staff help you a lot. I am a little bit struggling because I am not the old Luca. I am a little bit slower. But I am enjoying it. I am really glad to have come to London.

“Even my parents weren’t too much with the idea of me coming to the Premiership because of all the injuries. They asked me ‘are you sure about your body?’.

“That put me under a little bit of pressure, so I am so glad to be healthy right now and play so much.”

There is also a possibility that Morisi will come toe-to-toe with some of his London Irish colleagues at Twickenham on Sunday afternoon. 

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Ollie Hassell-Collins made his England debut a week ago as Steve Borthwick’s maiden game as head coach ended in defeat, while Henry Arundell’s return from injury may be timely for the home side.

Playing at Twickenham has always held a special place in Morisi’s heart. Watching England on the television at the local pub where he grew up in Milan, his introduction to rugby led to him cheering on the white shirts on the screen as they took on New Zealand and South Africa.

Having developed a fondness for playing England, the 31-year-old scored a double against England in 2015 and has made two appearances at the home of English rugby so far.

As their showing against Scotland went to show, England still have a way to go under the new guidance of Steve Borthwick. Unstuck against Scotland, there may never have been a better time for an Italy side to visit West London in the hope of pulling off a shock.

In their history, Italy have never beaten England, this year perhaps offering the best chance for the Azurri to do so. 

But while that may be the conversation on the lips of those not involved in the fixture, Morisi’s sole thought is about continuing to improve after running France close.

“We are confident in ourselves,” Morisi said, “but we know England are always the best. They are always a tough side and even if they are struggling right now, it is just too hard to come there and say ‘okay, we are going to win this’.

“We are going to come there to play at 100 per cent, focus on the details and what comes, comes. If England decide to play, it will be really tough.

“For the group, I think the important thing is just to keep on playing and to fix all of the detail that we missed [against France]. We are not stupid; we know it will be really tough to win against England at Twickenham. We just want to keep on going and give our best.”


Italy Fixtures