State of the Nation: Italy

Date published: March 24 2015

As we do at the end of a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Italy!

Infuriating and momentarily inspiring year after year, Italy were their usual selves in a tournament filled with promise and frustration.

From winning in Scotland to being nilled at home by France was one thing, but then taking the game to Wales before shipping 47 points in the second half must have horrified their coach Jacques Brunel.

Italy's beleaguered boss rightly described the implosion as "inexplicable" and "a humilation" – a neat summary from a coach who has done his best to turn the Azzurri into an expansive side in his time in charge.

Watching the likes of Giovanbattista Vendetti, Luca Morisi and Leonardo Sarto is genuinely exciting because they offer both a real threat and the glimpse of a better future, but even the best sides in the world are nothing without mental fortitude and execution, two things Italy have struggled with.

They showed grit and character to pick up that win in Scotland – only their second ever away from home in the Six Nations and their first on the road in eight years – but then they capitulated as soon as Wales started firing.

Stand-in captain Leonardo Ghiraldini hit the nail on the head when he said that Italy lack the mental strength to survive setbacks in Test matches, backed up Martin Castrogiovanni's claims that the side needs a psychologist.

After a stubborn showing in the first half against Wales their defence became a turnstile. They will go nowhere if they cannot handle adversity.

There were certainly moments of bad luck, with Kelly Haimona at the heart of them. Losing two fly-halves minutes before a Test match is unheard of and Haimona does seem to offer a solution to the revolving door at number ten.

Bigger issues however are at hand. As soon as Italy's scrum meets its match then they lose the ability to generate momentum and therefore win Test matches. The number of handling errors at times in particular over the last two months was dire.

Even with Sergio Parisse involved against Wales it's unlikely the rout would have been stopped, but Italy rely so heavily on the great man for a spark and inspiration. Others have to step forward and carry the load.

The problems though really run much deeper. Adding both Treviso and Aironi/Zebre to the Pro12 hasn't worked out, with both sides struggling for success and the top Italian players deciding to move overseas. 

An interesting view in the Italian press claimed that the FIR have misspent €5 million on their academy structures when the funds in fact would have been better served by taking 20 coaches and sending them abroad to learn from the best, in order to giving the young players coming through in Italy a better standard of development. Claims have also been made that the annual budget from the FIR is gradually decreasing.

There is a need for a root and branch review of the direction of Italian rugby domestically for the national side to benefit, although bringing home top players or keeping promising ones isn't a smooth process when their salaries are far greater playing in France or England.

More instability is on the horizon in any case with the departure of Brunel after the Rugby World Cup, after he turned down an extension, but the next head coach will have a number of good young players at his disposal including Joshua Furno, Edoardo Gori, Tommaso Allan and the aforementioned backs.

Any success at the RWC however appears unlikely when you consider Italy are pooled with Ireland and France, with the side now ranked 15th in the world below Georgia.

A ton of work needs to be done to avoid future disappointment that Italian fans have put up with for too long.

by Ben Coles