It has been a familiar story for Italy in the Six Nations: staying in touch of their opposition but ultimately falling short, or rarely ever looking like being able to win. Even a surprise four point half time lead against Ireland still yielded zero match points. Despite this, Conor O’Shea can points to several signs that suggest Italian Rugby improving despite their Six Nations results.
A future without Parisse
The match against Ireland perhaps represented a key stepping stone in Italian rugby improvement as talisman Sergio Parisse watched from the sidelines. Without their captain they put in their best performance so far in the Championship. This suggests that when Parisse’s retirement day finally comes, Italy can have confidence that the team can prosper without their one truely world-class player.
It may even be beneficial for Italy in the long term not to be relying on one outstanding individual. A team all striving to improve from the same level may be able to grow better, in the way Benetton have in the PRO14.
On the flip side, whilst it would be easy to point at the Exeter Chiefs for example as a successful team that achieves more than expected on paper, good international sides in fact need numerous world class players. Looking at the five other nations in the tournament, it’s quite easy to select three or four standout names. With Italy, it’s very hard to look beyond Sergio Parisse.
Improvements for Italian Pro14 sides
As mentioned earlier, there has been ongoing success this season for Italian rugby in the PRO14. Benetton currently sit second in their conference with ten wins from 17 games. They sit above Scarlets, Edinburgh and Ulster and are on course to earn a Champions Cup place on merit.
HUGE result for @BenettonRugby
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) March 2, 2019
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Zebre, who sit bottom of conference A, but who did win three matches in the Challenge Cup including a win over Bristol. Recent hammerings have coincided with the Six Nations, showing that their Italian internationals are making a difference to their performance.
Women and Under 20s flying the flag
Of course, the Men’s Six Nations is not the only tournament taking place. The Italia Donne sit second with two wins and a draw, in touch with England for the title. A record that the men can only dream of right now.
— Italrugby (@Federugby) February 23, 2019
The Under 20s too are also outperforming the Men having beaten Scotland away in Round One. Another promising sign then that the talent pipeline is being put in place to continue to provide the next generation. This is key because currently the Men’s side is becoming reliant on “imports”; Callum Braley, Braam Steyn and Jayden Hayward are just some examples.
Six Nations results not the only success factor
At the moment, Italian Rugby improvement has to be judged on more than just five games a year. There are potential future world class players e.g. Jake Polledri. There is Benetton who are now consistently getting results against their Celtic rivals. And there is national pride and success being enjoyed by the Women’s and Under 20s. These are all factors that contribute to a successful national team. At some point, results for the Men’s team must improve. But will they be given enough time and resources to do so?
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