Italy's Masi plans to counter US speedster
Story by: Wayne Martin - The Nelson Mail - Photo by: Evan Barnes / Shuttersport
Andrea Masi hopes to use insider knowledge to blunt the threat of the United States and help secure Italy their second bonus point.
The Italian fullback lined up beside US wing Takudzwa Ngwenya at French club Biarritz for two years, so has first-hand experience of the Americans' main attacking weapon.
Ngwenya will sit out the US match against Australia tomorrow, but the Eagles will hope to unleash him against the Italians here next Tuesday.
Italy secured a bonus point in their 53-17 win over Russia on Tuesday and will focus on doing the same against the Americans.
But the three tries the Azzurri conceded were of particular concern, and Masi knows his team cannot be so porous in defence again, especially against Ngwenya.
The wing joined Biarritz after he caught the attention of the rugby world by blazing past South African speedster Bryan Habana to score a try at Rugby World Cup 2007.
"I played with Ngwenya, and he and the centre [Paul] Emerick are players who could cause us trouble," Masi said.
"You can't give him any space because he will cut you in half. His opposite winger has to work with the outside centre or fullback to shut the space down and get to him."
Against Russia, Masi was unable to capitalise on Italy's more adventurous style of play to add to his try tally.
Furthermore, the 2011 Six Nations man of the tournament still feels he has room for improvement the further Italy go in Rugby World Cup 2011.
"A try hasn't come my way, but it has been good to play fullback in these two matches [against Australia and Russia], as it has been a long time since the Six Nations," Masi said.
"I feel I'm getting better match after match, and I hope to play in all the group matches, as that is the only way I will get back to 100 per cent in time for the match against Ireland [on October 2]."
The win over Russia has renewed Italy's confidence that they can reach the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals for the first time.
After Ireland's win over Australia, Italy are likely to need to follow their bonus-point win over Russia with another against the US, as well as a victory against Ireland, to progress.
Prior to the Russia match, the only time Italy had scored four or more tries under Nick Mallett was in a 31-24 win over Japan in a pre-RWC 2011 test in Cesena.
"We scored a few tries and were able to play in the backs," Masi said of the Russia match. "We were able to read their defence and exploit the gaps in their defence to score.
"The defensive problems we had were probably from a lack of concentration, as we switched off a bit after scoring the fourth try. Those problems we had against Australia have been resolved."