Italy desperate to end barren Six Nations run

Friday, 21 February 2020 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Italy players in a huddle after the match 9 February – Reuters 

LONDON (Reuters): It is 20 years since Italy sailed into the Six Nations on a wave of optimism by beating Scotland in the opening match of the expanded championship but when they face the same opponents on Saturday it will be with a very different mindset.

So far have Italy fallen from those heady days that they have not won a Six Nations match in their last 24 attempts. Their last win, also against Scotland in 2015, is their solitary success in 32 games spanning 6-1/2 tournaments.

In truth, it has not really been a story of decline as they have never been able to get much of a foothold in the tournament, having lobbied for years, when they were a competitive side, to be allowed to join the party.

After beating the Scots in Rome on their debut they promptly lost their next 14 matches. Only twice, in 2007 and 2013, have they managed two wins in a campaign. They have collected the wooden spoon for finishing last in 14 of their 20 campaigns.

Their failure to make any sort of dent in the status quo has led to calls for promotion and relegation, with Georgia, consistently Europe’s next-strongest club, seemingly the most likely to make the leap. Recent substantial investment in the tournament by private equity firm CVC has led to speculation of more radical surgery – with Japan and South Africa being talked about as possible options either as replacements or additions.

None of those options look likely, certainly in the short term, but how Italy would love a win or two under their belt to keep the wolves from the door.  A home fixture against a Scotland team who have lost their opening two games and are still without star flyhalf Finn Russell – who has fallen out with coach Gregor Townsend – looks, as usual, by far their best chance of getting one.

New Italy coach Franco Smith was given a baptism of fire as they barely mustered an attack when being swept aside 42-0 by Wales in their opener. 

There was improvement, and some attacking intent, in the 35-22 defeat by France in Paris two weeks ago and back on home soil they will have to have a positive mindset.

“We’re obviously not satisfied and there are still many aspects to improve,” Italy flyhalf Tommaso Allan said after the loss in Paris.

“We’re working with a new system and that takes time and patience. It’s clear that there’s still a lot of work to be done. If we continue to believe and work hard on everything the results will not fail to arrive.”

It all sounds very familiar, albeit without the promised arrival of results, but Italian fans, and neutrals who recognise how much better the championship would be with a competitive sixth member, will hope they can finally deliver on Saturday.