State of the Nation: Italy

20th Mar 2013, 09:28

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Italy: Best Championship, ever

Italy: Best Championship, ever

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

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

Success! At long last, Italy have managed to back up claiming one big scalp with another. The result? Their best Six Nations to date.

More than a few eyebrows were raised two years ago when the Italian Federation announced that the Azzurri had come as far as they could under Nick Mallett and it was time for fresh ideas. Many of those surprised looks turned to smiles of derision when Jacques Brunel declared that he had ambitions to making Italy one of the world's top six sides.

It seemed like the typical pie-in-the sky talk from a coach who wanted to make the right noises when arriving at a new job. Italy might have still have a long way to go to get anywhere near those lofty goals but never again will they be considered minnows in the Six Nations.

We shouldn't pretend to be shocked by victory over France. Been there, done that.

An historic victory over Ireland must be celebrated. Another milestone has been reached.

But I think this campaign's most significant result was at Twickenham, where the Azzurri had an average losing margin of 33 points and started as 40/1 outsiders yet managed to outscore their hosts by a try to none. Sure, England weren't at their best, but the self belief shown by the Italians - which almost saw them snatch another upset - was noteworthy.

Genuine ambition has been the missing ingredient in the past. Without needing to revolutionise the way Italy play, Brunel seems to have fostered a new, positive approach. Whilst Mallett must be given huge credit for the progress made under his watch, his attitude of "we'll try not to lose by too much" when playing the big nations away from home, is now a thing of the past.

Well, almost.

Murrayfield was a disaster. Scotland played but Italy's mental hangover after the French win was the bigger issue. Mallett's old criticisms of the stereotypical Latin temperament were proved uncomfortably true. That kind of inconsistency can no longer be accepted.

Italian fans have been waiting for a saviour at fly-half with the kind of anticipation that surrounded recent events at the Vatican and Luciano Orquera's performance in Edinburgh suggests their wait is not yet over, even if he was pretty good elsewhere.

The Italians back row now matches the front row in quality and a few big, hungry youngsters amongst the backs have taken to Brunel's vision of a slightly more expansive style like mozzarella to pizza.

With three away fixtures on the menu next year, emulating this year's achievements will be a very tough task but Italy's prospects have never looked better.

Bravissimo!

By Ross Hastie