Florence, Italy – Australia captain Nathan Sharpe said his side will not be taking Italy lightly when the teams line up for the Azzurri's final November Test on Saturday.
Australia responded to a 33-6 humbling by France two weeks ago with an improved all round performance in a 20-14 win over England at Twickenham last week.
Sharpe, who will collect his 115th cap for the Wallabies on Saturday, said Australia are on a quest for an even better performance in Florence.
But he believes Italy, who lost 42-10 to New Zealand last week having trailed by only six points at the half-time interval (7-13), won't be as easy to roll over as some might think.
Asked what aspects of their game the Aussies would be looking to improve, he told AFP: “Our breakdown work was good last week, but Italy are very hard on the ball so we know we have to be good there.
“They're a menacing team, they get stuck right in so that's the mental application that we need to take into the game and we've been preparing for that this week.”
Sharpe remembers well the last time Australia played Italy in Florence, when the visitors walked away from the Stadio Artemio Franchi with a 32-14 victory.
Two years later, he says it should be a different challenge.
“I think they're definitely stronger, but they also play differently now, with a little bit more width and expanse,” added Sharpe.
“They're threatening across the park rather than just being a bit more one dimensional.”
Playing more expansive rugby has been the number one objective of Italy coach Jacques Brunel, who replaced Nick Mallett last year.
And although the Azzurri failed to fire when they beat Tonga by only 28-23 a fortnight ago, their promising display against the All Blacks last week has made some of the bigger nations sit up and pay attention.
For Luke McLean, born in Australia but now a full-time Azzurri thanks to an Italian grandmother, Italy need to forget about scores and focus solely on their performance.
“I think a lot of it comes down to confidence. As a team we haven't been in that situation before, against the All Blacks and down a couple of points,” he told AFP.
“After 60 minutes you might start having that attitude of 'we can actually win this', and you start looking at the scoreboard and that's the wrong attitude to have, obviously.
“You need to keep doing what you've done so far, just playing simple rugby. I think it's just having that attitude of not looking at the scoreboard and going about your own business.”
Sharpe admitted he has watched video footage of the Italy v New Zealand test “a few times” and came to the conclusion their hosts played an “outstanding match”.
“The All Blacks are a good team at the moment,” added Sharpe.
“I thought Italy were outstanding actually... so we take from the fact they're very tough opposition. I think the All Blacks were quoted as saying it was one of the toughest opposition they'd met this year, so that speaks volumes.” – Sapa-AFP