Confidence high as Italy aim to repeat last week's heroics
Scotland v Italy: Italy flew into Edinburgh yesterday with their coach, Jacques Brunel, trying hard, but not too hard, to keep a lid on expectations ahead of today’s Test against Scotland. Such a position is almost unknown to coaches of Italian rugby teams and there are signs that Brunel is finding his audience hard to convince.
After beating France, the pre-tournament second favourites, in Rome last Sunday, there is increasing talk – around his squad and in the Italian press – about the possibility of two wins in a Six Nations season for the first time.
Sergio Parisse, Italy’s captain and their one player of world class, was the first to mention the possibility.
But in the days that have followed it has become an aspiration regularly heard, including from one of last week’s heroes, the man of the match, Luciano Orquera. He has been almost lyrical at times in describing his feelings and the liberating role he believes Brunel has had on the team.
According to Orquera, an outhalf who took the best part of a decade to become an overnight success, it was Brunel’s confidence that inspired him to make the early break that set Italy on their way.
“It was a special game. I felt tranquillity, trust, harmony. And I knew that if I had made a wrong choice, this climate would not be changed,” said Orquera, who admitted that his missed penalty against Australia in the autumn, which would have completed a comeback from being 19 points down at half-time, had long played on his mind.
“I thought and rethought for a month about the error in the end of the game against Australia, then finally the disappointment has evaporated and the victory against France has erased all. To me I seemed to be at a party.”
Before Sunday Orquera had taken nine seasons and 29 games to rack up 66 Test points. He was around two years ago when Italy, then under the South African Nick Mallett, beat France for the first time in the Six Nations.
Compared to that one-point victory at the Stadio Flaminio in 2011 – when Mirco Bergamasco kicked 17 points – Sunday’s 23-18 win at the Stadio Olimpico was far less attritional, lending support to assertions from Orquera and others that Brunel has given Italy a more enterprising game than the one demanded by Mallett and previous national coaches.
If Scotland do not make a better fist of the breakdown than they managed at Twickenham, then Italian aspirations could well come true.
Coach Brunel has been trying to give his side some perspective. “When Scotland saw the fixtures list for this season’s tournament they said: ‘This year we have to beat Italy to avoid the wooden spoon’,” he said. Brunel has made one change, the veteran centre Gonzalo Canale replacing the injured Alberto Sgarbi.
“Winning in Edinburgh is our next challenge.”
After losing to England, Scotland’s interim coach, Scott Johnson, has replaced the injured Alasdair Strokosch with Robert Harley, a red-headed flanker. Another of Scotland’s new boys Sean Maitland said: “Italy will be up for this,” he said. “It’s a huge game and it’s do or die – the breaking point of our season. We have to do ourselves justice.”