Six Nations Pass Notes: Only way is up for Italy

Jacques Brunel has broadened Italy’s playing patterns to make them a more rounded team but he hasn’t quite solved the halfback conundrum

Italy head coach Jacques Brunel.

Italy head coach Jacques Brunel.

 

So what’s this about Romulus and Remus forming the secondrow partnership for Italy?

In historically referring to the twin founders of Rome, it must be a perception that the Italian pack is populated by gnarled veterans. It’s not quite true, because if you look at the eldest, flanker Mauro Bergamasco, he’s just 35 years young. There’s one or two of those in the Ireland squad. It’s probably the fact that the likes of former captain, Marco Bortolami (34), Martin Castrogiovanni (33), Quintin Geldenhuys (33), Sergio Parisse (31) and Alessandro Zanni (31) have all been around for so long.

So the pack isn’t getting long in the tooth?

No, not a denture in sight; there is still plenty of bite according to anecdotal evidence and the mottled discolouration of bruised bodies in the wake of matches against the hugely physical Italians.

Wasn’t last year’s Six Nations Championship a massive anticlimax after the heroic exploits of 2013?

You’re referring to their victories over France and Ireland, both in Rome and running England to seven points, two years ago. The momentum came to a shuddering halt in the tournament 12 months ago when they lost all five matches.

So which Italy is going to turn up this year, the Lamborghini tractor or the Lamborghini Countach?

It’s more likely to be the former. Coach Jacques Brunel has broadened Italy’s playing patterns to make them a more rounded team but he hasn’t quite solved the halfback conundrum that continues to hamper their progress.

That’s a perennial issue, dating back to previous coaches? Yep, they’ve trawled the world, making several players an offer they couldn’t refuse, but subsequently the Italians wished they had. Diminutive Argentine Diego Dominguez, born in Cordoba, was their greatest playmaker.

Speaking of which, the Azzuri, some of their stock haven’t been true blue Italians, so to speak down through the ages?

No they have had quite a few Southern Hemisphere imports over the years and that is evident once again in this Six Nations squad through the presence of New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans. There’s even Tommaso Allen, who played underage rugby for Scotland when he was known simply as Tommy.

And they’ve benefitted from some foreign coaches too?

Yes, former All Black John Kirwan, former Springbok Nick Mallett, ex-Fiji coach and another All Black Brad Johnstone and former French international scrumhalf Pierre Berbizier to name but four.

Prospects?

Home to France and Ireland, who they beat two years ago, but those two nations now present a different prospect. Wales too. They won’t be too chipper about their prospects this season –given last year’s experience. 

Pick up your free Six Nations 2015 magazine with Wednesday’s Irish Times.

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