This year's Six Nations represents 20 years since Italy made their debut in the competition.

The Azzurri became the first new addition to the championship since France in 1940 at the turn of the millennium, and it has been a tough ride.

With the help of Opta, we look at the statistics behind Italy's Six Nations journey before they begin the 2020 campaign at Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

Will it be an anniversary to celebrate?

 

At the bottom looking up

Since joining the competition in 2000, Italy have scored a total of 133 tries. Scotland have only touched down eight more times in that time frame, while England lead the way on 299.

The Azzurri have averaged the fewest carries (97.4), defenders beaten (10.96), metres made (323.25) and clean breaks (4.5) per Six Nations game.

Given the fact they are often facing a lot of pressure, it is unsurprising they lead the Six Nations with an average of 116.99 tackles per game.

However, they miss 19.1 per 80 minutes and consequently have the worst tackle success rate of all teams at 86 per cent.

A record for futility

It is fair to say Italy have not enjoyed a great time of it recently.

The Azzurri have lost their past 22 games in the competition, representing the longest losing run in Five/Six Nations history, having last year surpassed the 17 straight defeats suffered by France between 1911 and 1920.

There had been signs of promise for Italy when they claimed the Wooden Spoon just once between 2012 and 2015, but they last year took it home for the fourth tournament in a row and 14th time overall.

Franco Smith will be hoping to end a winless streak that stretches back to 2015 and started after their second away victory in championship history, both of which have come against Scotland at Murrayfield. They face trips to Wales, France and Ireland this year.

King Parisse

While he is only expected to play home matches in his final Six Nations, Sergio Parisse has certainly left a mark on the competition.

He has made more appearances (69), carries (785) – surpassing his closest rival in that regard Brian O'Driscoll by almost 300 – and metres (3,088) than any other player in Six Nations history.

Only Alun Wyn Jones (580) has made more tackles than the Italy number eight (540), while he ranks third in turnovers (36) behind John Barclay (37) and O'Driscoll (53).

Leading scorers

Parisse's seven Six Nations tries put him joint-top of Italy's all-time list with Mirco Bergamasco, a tally Tommaso Allan is just two shy of.

Bergamasco scored 17 of Italy's 22 points when they beat France in the Six Nations for the first time in 2011 and reached 122 in the competition before making the switch to rugby league.

Only former fly-half Diego Dominguez, who booted 29 against Scotland in Italy's maiden win in the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2000, has more (162).

Wales begin the defence of their Six Nations crown on Saturday as they welcome Italy to the Principality Stadium.

Having won their first title in six years in 2019, it is a new era for Wales under Wayne Pivac, who replaced his compatriot Warren Gatland.

England finished as runners up last year, and Eddie Jones' team – champions in 2016 and 2017 – start their campaign against France in Paris.

Meanwhile, this year's Centenary Quaich between Ireland and Scotland takes place in Dublin, with Andy Farrell getting his first taste of Six Nations action as a head coach.

With the help of Opta, we take a statistical look at the opening round of matches.


Wales v Italy

- Holders Wales have won 17 of their 20 Six Nations matches against Italy, including their past 12 in a row, last losing this fixture in 2007. 

- At home, Wales – who claimed a Grand Slam in 2019 – have 14 wins from their past 16 games in the Six Nations, their two defeats in that time both coming against England in 2015 and 2017.

- Italy have lost their past 22 games in the Six Nations, the longest losing run in the history of the competition, with their most recent win coming at Murrayfield against Scotland five years ago.

- Wales achieved a goal kicking success rate of 83 per cent across all their Test matches in 2019, the best rate of any Tier 1 side, while Italy had the lowest such rate (64 per cent).

- George North will start at centre for Wales and he needs one more try to become the third player to score 20 in the Six Nations, joining Brian O'Driscoll (26) and Shane Williams (22).
 

Ireland v Scotland

- Only once in the past four seasons have Ireland won their opening game of a Six Nations, going on to win the Grand Slam in the year they managed to do so (2018).

- Scotland have just seven wins in 50 away matches in the Six Nations, with five of those coming in Italy.

- Ireland have won five of their past six Six Nations games against Scotland, their sole defeat in that time coming in 2017 at Murrayfield.

Conor Murray has 19 assists to his name for Ireland in the Six Nations, the most of any player from any nation. He is also the joint-top try-scoring scrum-half in the competition, with nine.
 

France v England

- Billy Vunipola made 198 carries in international rugby in 2019, over 50 more than any other player, while was also the top metre-making forward for a Tier 1 side.

- France – who finished fourth last year – have crossed for just six tries in their past six home games against England in the Six Nations.

- Rugby World Cup runners-up England have won 10 of their past 13 Six Nations matches against France, though all three losses in that time came in Paris.

- Jones' side scored 24 tries in the 2019 Six Nations, eight more than any other side and double the amount France managed.

- However, of the 10 Tier 1 nations, only New Zealand managed a higher tackle success rate than France in 2019 across all matches.

Anthony Bouthier and Mohamed Haouas will make their France debuts in the heat of a Six Nations battle with England at Stade de France on Sunday.

Montpellier duo Bouthier and Haouas will start at full-back and tighthead prop respectively in Paris at the dawn of a new era under head coach Fabien Galthie.

Charles Ollivon captains Les Bleus for the first time, while livewire wing Teddy Thomas returns to the starting line-up after missing out on the Rugby World Cup.

Galthie has put his faith in youth for the tournament, with Boris Palu and Cameron Woki hoping to make win their first caps off the bench in 'Le Crunch'.

Hooker Julien Marchand has been handed a first start and Cyril Baille joins him in the front row, with Camille Chat (calf) ruled out.

Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack form an exciting half-back pairing, while Virimi Vakatawa and Gael Fickou get the nod in midfield.

 

France: Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Gael Fickou, Damian Penaud, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Paul Willemse, Francois Cros, Charles Ollivon (captain), Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements:  Peato Mauvaka, Jefferson Poirot, Demba Bamba, Boris Palu, Cameron Woki, Baptiste Serin, Matthieu Jalibert, Vincent Rattez.

George North will play at centre and Johnny McNicholl makes his Wales debut against Italy on Saturday but Josh Navidi will miss the start of the Six Nations due to injury.

North switches to partner Hadleigh Parkes for his fifth start in midfield at international level, with uncapped wing McNicholl coming in for the defending champions' first match of the tournament under head coach Wayne Pivac.

Flanker Navidi looks set to miss the majority of the competition after suffering a hamstring injury.

Fit-again back-row Taulupe Faletau returns for his first international appearance since March 2018, while uncapped centre Nick Tompkins could make his debut off the bench.

Tomos Williams and Dan Biggar made up the half-back pairing at the Principality Stadium, where Josh Adams and Leigh Halfpenny join McNicholl in the back three.

There is no place in the matchday squad for teen flyer Louis Rees-Zammit.

 

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl, George North, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Dillon Lewis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Ryan Elias, Rob Evans, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, Ross Moriarty, Rhys Webb, Jarrod Evans, Nick Tompkins.

Scotland will give a debut to Nick Haining in Saturday's Six Nations clash with Ireland as Gregor Townsend makes 10 changes to the side that flopped out of the Rugby World Cup.

Australia-born Haining is the only Test newcomer, but Townsend will present a revamped Scotland compared to the team that failed to go beyond the group stage in Japan.

Defeat to the hosts ended Scotland's campaign, after a thumping loss to Ireland earlier in the tournament.

Scotland will look to take revenge for Ireland's 27-3 victory, which came in Yokohama, but history suggests Townsend's men are up against it, having not won in Dublin since 2010.

Haining is joined in the back row by Edinburgh club-mates Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie, while Glasgow Warriors lock Scott Cummings makes his first Six Nations appearance and prop Rory Sutherland earns a first cap in three and a half years.

New captain Stuart Hogg and centre Sam Johnson are the only survivors in the back division from the Japan game in October.

An overhaul was required following the retirement of former skipper Greig Laidlaw and Tommy Seymour, plus star fly-half Finn Russell's embarrassing axing from Townsend's plans after a breach of team protocol, with Adam Hastings taking his place.

Townsend said: "We must be a relentless collective on the pitch and a nightmare for the Irish to deal with."

 

Scotland team to play Ireland: 

Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn, Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Nick Haining.

Replacements: Stuart McInally, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Cornell du Preez, George Horne, Rory Hutchinson, Chris Harris.

England have been forced into a late change of plan for Sunday's Six Nations opener against France after Luke Cowan-Dickie departed Eddie Jones' squad.

Exeter hooker Cowan-Dickie has left the rest of his colleagues for "family reasons", team officials confirmed, with Saracens' Jack Singleton called up to take his place.

England have been training in Portugal's Algarve region ahead of their campaign.

With Cowan-Dickie set to be unavailable, Saracens' Jamie George and uncapped Bath star Tom Dunn will contest the number two jersey, with Singleton in as cover.

George started in England's last match, the Rugby World Cup final defeat to South Africa in November.

England's clash with Les Bleus in Paris is the final match of the first weekend of the championship, with Saturday seeing Wales play Italy and Ireland hosting Scotland.

England have been forced into a late change of plan for Sunday's Six Nations opener against France after Luke Cowan-Dickie withdrew from Eddie Jones' squad.

Exeter hooker Cowan-Dickie pulled out of the group for "family reasons", team officials confirmed, with Saracens' Jack Singleton called up to take his place.

England have been training in Portugal's Algarve region ahead of their campaign.

With Cowan-Dickie unavailable, Saracens' Jamie George and uncapped Bath star Tom Dunn will contest the number two jersey, with Singleton in as cover.

George started in England's last match, the Rugby World Cup final defeat to South Africa in November.

England's clash with Les Bleus in Paris is the final match of the first weekend of the championship, with Saturday seeing Wales play Italy and Ireland hosting Scotland.

Saracens were handed a 70-point deduction on Tuesday as Premiership Rugby outlined the process that would see them relegated at the end of the season.

Having already stated the reigning English and European champions would be demoted for breaches of the salary cap, league officials have confirmed how that will play out.

The humiliating fall from grace had already seen Saracens docked 35 points, and the further deduction means they are now sure to finish at the foot of the Premiership table.

The London-based team now sit on minus 77 points, despite picking up six wins from their opening nine games.

In a statement published on its website, Premiership Rugby said the January 18 ruling regarding Saracens' fate was followed by talks with the Rugby Football Union, English rugby's governing body.

New salary cap regulations published on Tuesday by Premiership Rugby show clubs will be subject to tighter regulation, with those found to have breached the senior squad ceiling of £6.4million by £350,000 or more susceptible to deductions of 70 points if they do not "fully co-operate in a timely manner" with investigations.

Regarding Saracens, Premiership Rugby said: "A further deduction of 70 points has been imposed on Saracens in the current season. This sanction is in addition to the separate deduction of 35 points imposed in November 2019 for breaches of the salary cap in previous seasons.

"The 70-point deduction ensures that Saracens will end the current season in 12th position. The league table will be updated with effect from today."

Caelan Doris will make his Ireland debut when Andy Farrell's side open their Six Nations campaign against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

The Leinster number eight will play from the start, meaning CJ Stander switches to blindside flanker and former Lions captain Peter O'Mahony begins on the bench.

Leinster's Jordan Larmour has overcome a foot injury to beat Will Addison to the starting spot at full-back, with Jacob Stockdale and Andrew Conway the two wings for Ireland.

New captain Johnny Sexton starts at fly-half alongside Munster's Conor Murray, who is selected over John Cooney at scrum-half.

Rob Herring gets the start at hooker, with Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong picked as the props.

Leinster hooker Ronan Kelleher is the other player who is in line to make his debut, though he starts among the replacements.

Ireland finished third behind Wales and England in last year's Six Nations before suffering a humbling defeat to New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, meaning a disappointing end to a highly successful era under Joe Schmidt.
 

Ireland XV to play Scotland: Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton (c), Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Devin Toner, Peter O'Mahony, John Cooney, Ross Byrne, Robbie Henshaw.

Defending Top 14 champions Toulouse defeated Bordeaux-Begles, who missed the chance to return to the top of the table on Sunday.

Lyon beat Toulon on Saturday to unseat Bordeaux at the summit, and a 22-14 away reverse the following day - inspired by Thomas Ramos - kept the visitors in second.

Ramos scored a try, dispatched two conversions and also a penalty to supply half of Toulouse's points as they climbed to sixth.

There was a dramatic finish at the bottom of the table, meanwhile, as Agen climbed from 14th place thanks to a 23-22 win at Bayonne.

Jamie-Jerry Taulagi bundled his way over in the 78th minute, and Leo Berdeu held his nerve to add the crucial extras in a narrow success.

Saracens were handed a resounding 41-14 defeat by Harlequins in the absence of several key players as they returned to Premiership action for the first time since their automatic relegation was confirmed.

With seven players at an England training camp ahead of the Six Nations and Billy Vunipola out with a broken arm, Saracens – who will spend next season in the Championship after breaching salary cap regulations – succumbed to a chastening loss as the rain lashed down at Twickenham Stoop.

Quins welcomed captain Chris Robshaw back into the line-up and took the lead inside two minutes, Alex Dombrandt putting the disappointment of being overlooked by Eddie Jones aside by winning a turnover and setting up Danny Care to touch down.

Cadan Murley finished off a sweeping move in the right corner in the 11th minute and had a second try after a stunning dummy from Marcus Smith helped make it 19-0.

Alex Lozowski reduced the arrears before half-time but Gabriel Ibitoye and Paul Lasike crossed within 10 minutes of the restart to establish a 24-point cushion for Quins.

Manu Vunipola added the extras after teeing up Dom Morris for a Sarries try out wide, but Martin Landajo raced clear after intercepting the ball to round-off a bonus-point triumph that moved Quins level with fifth-placed Bristol.

Lyon quickly put their European Champions Cup disappointment behind them to return to the Top 14 summit with a comfortable home victory over Toulon on Saturday.

The domestic league leaders failed to advance through their European pool after losing to Leinster and Northampton Saints across the previous two weekends.

But a Top 14 title charge is very much on thanks to their 11th win of the campaign, a 27-12 success as Toulon were held try-less.

Xavier Mignot crossed for Lyon's opener after eight minutes, but Anthony Belleau kicked four first-half penalties to keep Toulon in the match with a narrow half-time lead.

But after Rudi Wulf and then Toby Arnold added further Lyon tries, victory never looked in serious doubt.

Meanwhile, La Rochelle defeated Montpellier 35-30 thanks to a hat-trick from Arthur Retiere in a 15-minute spell either side of half-time.

Retiere crossed in the 32nd, 36th and 46th minutes to put La Rochelle in complete control, their lead 32-11 inside the final half-hour.

But they had to withstand a tense finish after Johan Goosen, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg and Nemani Nadolo all crossed while Geoffrey Doumayrou was sent off.

Racing 92 had no difficulties as they crushed Castres on the road, Marc-Antoine Rallier's 48th-minute dismissal ending all hopes of a home fightback in a 27-0 reverse.

Brive defeated Pau 33-26 in far more dramatic circumstances, though, as Thomas Laranjeira produced a stunning match-winning turn.

The full-back scored 28 of his side's 33 points, including two tries in the closing stages to down shell-shocked Pau, who had led from the 26th minute until the 77th.

In Saturday's late game, Stade Francais made a strong start but succumbed to a 29-19 loss at Clermont Auvergne.

Bordeaux-Begles have the chance to move back above Lyon and return to the top of the standings when they play away to holders Toulouse on Sunday.

An incredible finish to Saturday's Pro14 game saw Rhyno Smith's late double lift Cheetahs to a stunning 31-30 win at rivals Southern Kings.

The two South African sides clashed at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and, for much of the contest, the struggling Kings looked certain to claim their first derby win.

Bader Pretorius, who also kicked three conversions and three penalties, Stefan Ungerer and JT Jackson crossed for the home side.

Kings' lead was a handsome 30-17 with just six minutes remaining, but a remarkable late show from Rhyno Smith proved their undoing – the Cheetahs star crossing in the 76th and 81st minutes.

Replacement scrum-half Ruan Pienaar still had to keep his cool with the conversions, but his second successful kick clinched an improbable victory.

Sale Sharks survived a second-half fightback from Exeter Chiefs to secure a hard-earned 22-19 victory over the Premiership leaders.

Having headed into Saturday's encounter on the south coast without a defeat in all competitions since November, Exeter found themselves trailing 22-5 at the interval after a blistering first-half display from the visitors.

With Tom O'Flaherty sent to the sin bin early on Exeter, Sale ran in three tries in the first half – Chris Ashton, Daniel du Preez and Byron McGuigan getting on the scoresheet.

Rob du Preez added a further seven points, though Phil Dollman's try had handed the Chiefs some hope and Exeter gained 14 points in the space of seven minutes to set up a grandstand finale.

But Sale held firm, clinching a victory that lifted them into third, four points behind Exeter.

Elsewhere, Wasps ran in three tries in the second half to come from behind and edge out Worcester Warriors 30-26, with Dan Robson's late try proving decisive in a bonus-point win.

Wasps are eighth, level on points with the Warriors and three shy of Bath, who just got the better of Leicester Tigers – Tom Homer's double ultimately securing a 13-10 victory.

Meanwhile, Bristol Bears snapped a three-match losing streak with a convincing 34-16 triumph over west country rivals Gloucester, who slipped into fourth.

Callum Sheedy kicked 19 of the Bears' points, converting five penalties in the first half, with Bristol going over three times after the break.

Dave Porecki's last-gasp try prevented 14-man Northampton Saints from going top of the Premiership as London Irish secured a thrilling 20-16 win at Franklin's Gardens.

The visitors were 16-8 down heading into the final eight minutes but tries from Franco van der Merwe and Porecki got the job done for Irish after Api Ratuniyarawa had seen red.

Ollie Hassell-Collins' early try gave the underdogs the lead, but the Saints – who lost England centre Piers Francis to injury in the first half – led at the break after Cobus Reinach dotted down and James Grayson added eight points with the boot.

Ratuniyarawa's second-half dismissal for a high clearance at a ruck proved pivotal, even if another Grayson penalty did initially give Northampton further breathing space. 

Having seen Reinbach, who confirmed this month he would leave Saints at the end of the season, make a stunning try-saving tackle, the hosts' resolve was broken when Van der Merwe pierced the line.

Irish continued to press and got their reward at the death, Porecki pouncing to earn their first win since November after an attempted clearance was charged down. 

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