There has been a recurring theme in the media this week that Ireland looked over-trained, low in confidence and out of form in their recent performance against the Azzurri. This was the same view held by the Welsh media regarding their own team’s performance against Italy a few weeks prior, where they failed to secure a bonus point in the Stadio Olimpico. Although, there has been an acknowledgement of Italy’s improved displays, much of the focus has been on the Teir one teams lackluster performances. To be fair, this is to be expected with a team whose regular captain has lost more than 100 test matches. Yet, ignoring the fact that Italy have now lost 20 Six Nations games on the trot, there were real signs of improvement in this Italian side last Sunday.
Italy’s game does still rely heavily on it’s forward pack with the backs making the occasional contribution. There is also still the presence of missed tackles in their game, leading to the other team beating more defenders and putting a large number of points on the scoreboard. However, there is one aspect of there game where Italy have made considerable improvement. That aspect is their handling skills. It was evident when Scotland played Ireland, that it was ultimately the Scots poor execution and 15 handling errors that lost them that match. With each error, Scotland handed possession back to Ireland to either exit from their own line with comfort or set up a platform to attack from.
In Rome, Italy didn’t give Ireland these opportunities and instead it was Ireland making these uncharacteristic handling errors. These errors killed Ireland’s attack on numerous occasions and allowed the Azzuri to build a platform and take the lead at half-time. This was the same for the Italians in their match against Wales, where the Welsh made 11 handling errors against Italy’s 5. This ultimately resulted in Wales leaving the bonus point behind which could prove crucial on the final day. If Italy had been more clinical in these both displays, they may have ended up adding two huge scalps to their collection.
There are reasons for Italy’s recent improvement. At club level, Benetton Rugby are currently second in the conference B table of the Pro 14. A much improved placing compared to their 5th place finish in the 2017-2018 season. This climb in the table can be attributed to Italy’s under-20s progress with wins against Argentina, Scotland and Wales last year and Ireland the year previous. Former under-20s players such as Sebastian Negri, Maxime Mbanda and Matteo Minozzi have now made there way onto the senior level set-up and are making a considerable impact at test level. One would foresee a more competitive Italian rugby side in years to come with the progress being made at junior levels. Although, Italy may be destined for another wooden spoon this championship, good performances against England and France may curb the calls from critics for Italy to face regulation. Therefore, sparing fans a trip to the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena in Georgia for future Six Nation tournaments.
Written by James O’Connor