Australia are probably the biggest threat to New Zealand's expected dominance at this tournament and they get their Rugby World Cup 2011 campaign underway against Italy on Sunday. Italy have had some great success this year and a strong World Cup would be a good end to 2011. Italy's ambition will be escaping from this tough Group C.
Australia (10/11 -29 H'Cap vs Italy) are on a serious high after winning their first Tri-Nations in ten years. In the final game they beat a full strength New Zealand team and nothing can give a team more confidence than that. Australia were disappointed with their quarter-final exit in 2007 and will look to rectify that this time around. There will be a belief in Australia's camp that they can go all the way.
The Queensland Reds won the Super Rugby season this year and with so many of that team making up the Australia team, it means the Wallabies have a unit they are very familiar with each other and that are used to winning. The half-back pairing of Will Genia and Quade Cooper can be singled out for the great understanding they have.
Italy (16/1 to beat Australia) may have lost their final warm-up game in a slightly disappointing performance against Scotland but they will look at their performances in the Six Nations to really give them confidence that they can compete with the best. Italy were unlucky not to beat Ireland in Dublin and they went on to record an historic victory over France.
Italy won't expect a result against Australia but a good performance against one of the favourites for the Rugby World Cup will give them a big boost. They should beat the lesser teams in the group and then it will all come down to a showdown with Ireland in the final group game for a place in the quarter finals. Three good displays before that match and the Italians will believe they can avenge their narrow Six Nations defeat.
Australia: 1. Sekope Kepu, 2. Stephen Moore, 3. Ben Alexander, 4. Dan Vickerman, 5. James Horwill (capt), 6. Rocky Elsom, 7. David Pocock, 8. Radike Samo, 9. Will Genia, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Digby Ioane, 12. Pat McCabe, 13. Anthony Fainga'a, 14. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 15. Kurtley Beale.
Replacements: 16. Tatafu Polota Nau, 17. James Slipper, 18. Rob Simmons, 19. Ben McCalman, 20. Scott Higginbotham, 21. Luke Burgess, 22. James O'Connor.
Italy: 1. Andrea Lo Cicero, 2. Leonardo Ghiraldini, 3. Martin Castrogiovanni, 4. Carlo del Fava, 5. Cornelius van Zyl, 6. Alessandro Zanni, 7. Robert Barbieri, 8. Sergio Parisse (capt), 9. Fabio Semenzato, 10. Luciano Orquera, 11. Mirco Bergamasco, 12. Gonzalo Garcia, 13. Gonzalo Canale, 14. Tommaso Benvenuti, 15. Andrea Masi.
Replacements: 16. Tommaso D'Apice, 17. Lorenzo Cittadini, 18. Marco Bortolami, 19. Paul Derbyshire, 20. Edoardo Gori, 21. Riccardo Bocchino, 22. Luke McLean.