State of the Nation: Italy

Date published: December 5 2013

As we do at the end of every year, we look at the state of affairs in each of the world's leading nations. Next up, Italy!

As we do at the end of every year, we look at the state of affairs in each of the world's leading nations. Next up, Italy!

Italy are currently right back where they were at the start of the year, after 2013 proved to be a rollercoaster ride in terms of their fortunes on the international scene.

The Azzurri were initially on a high after completing their best Six Nations campaign since joining the competition in 2000. But they failed to build on some inspirational performances – home victories over France and Ireland as well as a narrow loss away to England – which eventually saw them sharing third spot on the table with Scotland at the end of the competition.

But there was little to shout about during the rest of the year which only yielded two further victories in six Tests.

They promised much at the start of a four-nation tournament – alongside hosts South Africa, Samoa and Scotland – but delivered little with a narrow defeat against the Scots their best result after suffering big losses to the Springboks and Pacific islanders.

And their coach Jacques Brunel probably described it best when he said he would have to take his charges back to the drawing board – after they finished their November Test campaign with a defeat to Argentina, narrowly beating Fiji and suffering a big defeat to Australia.

The Azzurri, once again, relied heavily on veterans like captain and number eight Sergio Parisse, and tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni – who both played in their 100th Tests in the win over Fiji.

The duo seldom play poorly for their country and when on song are amongst the best players in the world in their respective positions, but both are forwards and Italy's problem continues to lie in their back-line play. While their pack have proven on several occasions that they can match more illustrious opposition and lay a platform, their backs are yet to capitalise on this on a consistent basis.

In that match against Australia they raced into an early 10-0 lead, after Luke McLean scored a sublime try – in which the build-up started inside the Azzurri's 22, but moments like that were few and far between in 2013.

When he took over the reins from Nick Mallett after the 2011 World Cup, Brunel said improving Italy's back-line play would be one of his main objectives.

They have certainly made strides in this regard but, to be even better, they must also improve their tactical kicking, which is an area lagging far behind the leading Test countries.

Brunel has brought in Perpignan pivot and former Scotland U20 player Tomasso Allan, who made a try-scoring debut off the bench in the loss to Australia. The 20-year-old also started in the loss to the Pumas and made a positive impression on his full debut despite missing several shots at goal which ultimately contributed to the Azzurri's defeat.

However, the plan is to perservere with him until the 2015 World Cup which is a step in the right direction and hopefully more backs of a similar calibre can be unearthed if Italy are to become a genuine and consistent threat by the time the global showpiece takes place.

Italy have also invested in bringing Perpignan forwards coach and former Azzurri prop Giampiero De Carli on board. His contract is due to start on July 1, which is after the Six Nations, although the Italian Rugby Federation hope to have him released by the Top 14 club for Italy's tour of the South Pacific in June.

His input could be invaluable but if Italy want to improve their fortunes, they must also try to recruit a world class back-line coach to compliment De Carli's appointment.

by David Skippers