Italy will as-ever be relying on their pack when they tackle one of the toughest groups at the World Cup in New Zealand next month but their Achilles Heel remains the lack of a top-class flyhalf.
Italy has one of the most respected packs in the world with tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni and No.8 and captain Sergio Parisse considered amongst the very best in the world in their respective positions.
Add to that the ever-improving Alessandro Zanni, fellow flank Mauro Bergamasco and veteran lock Marco Bortolami and Italy are certainly not short on talent and muscle in their front eight.
But while the the Azzurri's pack is their undoubted strength it is not capable of carrying them to the world crown, and it is their failings in the backline which are most apparent.
Italy's backs in general are good players; Gonzalo Canale, Andrea Masi and Mirco Bergamasco have all played for years in France.
But they have several problems. One is that most of their backs are naturally centres and hence converting a pair of them into wings is not ideal. Then there is their lack of pace as there really isn't a single flyer in the team.
But the main problem is the halfback pairing. Italy have been searching for years to replace Alessandro Troncon and Diego Dominguez and have so far failed to do so.
Coach Nick Mallett has had the good fortune to discover a pair of promising young scrumhalves in Edoardo Gori and Fabio Semenzato who both look capable of enjoying long international careers, although they are far from being the finished product.
But it is at flyhalf that Italy really struggle.
Mallett thought he had found a temporary solution when former Australian Rugby League international Craig Gower, who has an Italian grandfather, came to Europe to play Rugby Union for Bayonne.
Mallett gave Gower the No.10 shirt and handed him his debut in June 2009 on tour in Australia. But after just 14 starts for Italy and one Six Nations season under his belt, Gower injured his knee against Argentina last November and never played for the Azzurri again.
In June he withdrew from Italy's pre-World Cup squad claiming his knee was not properly repaired, only to then announce a month later that he had signed a contract with Harlequins Rugby League for next season.
This left Mallett with a headache ahead of the World Cup. His original flyhalf in 2008 Andrea Marcato lost his place to Luke McLean in the 2009 Six Nations but when Mallett switched McLean to fullback, he discovered Gower.
However with Gower injured during the last Six Nations the baton was handed to Luciano Orquera, who is almost certain to start for Italy in New Zealand, and Kristopher Burton.
Orquero, however, was widely criticised for costing his side three tries in their 59-13 thrashing by England at Twickenham earlier this year while Burton didn't even make Mallett's final World Cup squad with youngster Riccardo Bocchino preferred.
It is hard not to feel sorry for the South African who is held in high esteem by his players and has taken the team forward in great strides but already knows the World Cup will be his Italian swansong. Mallett has turned Italy into a highly competitive side, able to match top level opponents physically for 80 minutes. The pack is now among the most respected in the world and despite a lack of genuine quality and talent in the backline, they are steadily improving. And yet the former South Africa and Stade Francais coach has been ruthlessly discarded by the Italian Federation who could be accused of have designs above their station. It is hard to see how his replacement Jacques Brunel will do any better.
Martin Castrogiovanni - prop
So much of the reason Italy's pack is respected the world over is down to the impact of the Leicester Tigers tighthead. Considered by many to be the best in the world in his position his scrummaging expertise is the source of many a penalty for Italy. He has his detractors with several opposition coaches accusing him in the past of bending the rules beyond breaking point. Castro, as he is affectionately known in Italy, is one of the main reasons the Azzurri are no longer a pushover for anyone as they will always cause opponents problems up front in the contact zone.
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