Hugging the foot of the tables in the Six Nations, Pro12 and Champions Cup, is it time to face facts that Italian rugby doesn't deserve a place at the top table?

I have an admission. On Saturday afternoon I passed up the opportunity of watching my local club, Stade Francais, in the Champions Cup. I went Christmas shopping instead. Unpardonable? Perhaps, but Christmas comes round once a year while the chance to see Treviso get a thrashing is a regular event

This time the Italians were whipped 41-14, an improvement nonetheless on the 50-17 hammering they received the previous weekend from Stade. At least Treviso scored some tries, not something they achieved in the 36-3 defeat to Leicester Tigers in round two of the Champions Cup. Their opening pool match, in case you’d forgotten, resulted in a 32-7 rout by Munster.

Hugo Bonneval

Playing catch-up: Hugo Bonneval scorches away from Treviso defenders in their 40-14 win

So Treviso will finish bottom of pool four and with a trip to Leicester and the visit of Munster to come it looks like they’ll end the competition without a win, as they did in 2013-14. Last season they managed one victory, a 23-20 win against the Ospreys in the final group game when there was no chance of either reaching the quarters, but the statistics of the last ten years reveal a sorry tale of ineptitude from Italian clubs in Europe’s showpiece tournament.
Since the 2005-06, Italian clubs have played 118 matches in the Heineken /Champions Cup. Treviso have appeared in every season, accompanied at various times by Calvisano, Viadana, Aironi and Zebre. Of those 118 matches, there have been six victories, one draw and 111 defeats.

It’s worth repeating – 111 defeats in 118 matches, a mind-boggling statistic, and indisputable proof that no Italian club deserves to be in the Champions Cup. You can’t fault the commitment of the Treviso squad, though you can the club’s fans. Only 4,600 turned up to see the visit of Stade, although that was twice as many who bothered to go and watch Leicester.

Zebre

Not up to scratch: Italian sides have won only seven of 118 games in the Champions Cup

A crowd of a couple of thousand makes a mockery of the Champions Cup, particularly when on the same weekend in the Challenge Cup, 8,500 fans watched Grenoble against London Irish and 5,000 Montpellier fans paid to see their boys thrash Calvisano 64-0.

We need to admit that the Great Italian Experiment has failed. The public aren’t interested and the players aren’t up to it, not at club level or in the international arena. Treviso and Zebre prop up the Pro12 table with two wins from 18 matches, and it’s questionable whether they’ll beat last season’s tally of six wins between them. Sure, there are a handful of very good Italian players but not enough to compete with the best that France and the Home Nations have to offer.

Similarly, the national team have, if anything, regressed in recent seasons and one fears for them now that their one world-class player, that old warrior Sergio Parisse, is on the wane. In the 16 years since they were admitted to the Six Nations, Italy have never won more than two matches in a championship, while they have never got out of the group stage of the World Cup.

Nick Mallett

Mallett era: A series of big-name coaches have taken the reins for the Azzurri

God knows, they’ve gone through some coaches in an attempt to raise their game – including John Kirwan, Pierre Berbizier, Nick Mallett and Jacques Brunel – and if the rumours are to be believed, Conor O’Shea and Ronan O’Gara could be next in line to take on European rugby’s most unenviable coaching job. My advice, boys, don’t bother.

Italian rugby is going in one direction, and that’s down. Some have argued that it took France a few decades to find their feet after their admittance to the Five Nations in 1910, but such comparisons are tenuous. Rugby a century ago was amateur; in fact it was a hobby more than a sport. Italy have been exposed to the same professional environment as their rivals and welcomed into the same tournaments. But to what end? As the recent World Cup demonstrated, Italy with all the opportunities they’ve been given are light years behind Argentina and Japan. They even struggled to beat Romania, a country that has been as neglected in the last 20 years as Italy have been spoiled.

Mamuka Gorgodze

Time for a change: Is it time for relegation in the Six Nations to allow Georgia or Romania a crack?

So it’s time to admit Italy don’t deserve their place at the top table. Relegation should be introduced to the Six Nations to allow Romania and Georgia the chance to replace Italy, while the EPCR needs to stop awarding Italy an automatic spot for the Champions Cup. Treviso never have been and never will be champions.

  • Toni Damascelli

    What you wrote is even more true after the last result of ire-ita.

  • Toni Damascelli

    No. They need to fire all the rugby federation top management first of all. The president as first. They are just dirty politicians.

  • Toni Damascelli

    It’s all right. No discussion. With such a federation president and so called managers – who are committed to squeeze the lemon to fill their pockets with money and about the internal rugby organisation they are totally uninterested – there was no past, there is no present and there will be no future. Among the players there are few good exceptions, Parisse (born in Argentina) above all, but the rest is painfully poor. Rugby is not a sport for Italians.

  • Ro Molloy

    “Treviso never have been and never will be champions.” That could be said of most clubs in the competition also. When EPCR took over the Heineken Cup the Italian goose was cooked because whatever chances they were given under ERC (to try increase the reach of rugby) they will be give short shift in the new rugby era, where money is king. So Gavin, who would you replace the Italian teams with? More mid table English or French? do you really believe they would bring anything more to the competition? I would wager the few wins they did achieve were against French clubs. I wonder would Scotland or the other nations be so keen on relegation from the six nations!

  • ACP

    So damn right. As a Rugby fanatic, i would like a qualification for the tournament from European Nations Cup, i’m very enough to see Italy and italians club to loose every match. As Italian, well, you can’t do a Six Nations without Italy. But just because spectators can go to the beautiful Rome. And it is worth!
    We need a Director of Rugby, and the italian federation should give him all the authority and power to let him change our crappy system, and this was never granted to someone.

  • EMJAY GEE

    Having worked in rugby in Italy for the past 15 years I totally agree. And it’s not just on the playing side, refs as well. Remember it’s now 17 seasons since they entered the 6 Nations and not a single Italian has reffed a game. Until they radically change the people and approach at the top nothing will change.

  • Rolf Erik Løkkevik

    I’d rather see the two best countries from the European Nations Cup move up into the Six Nations establishing a new Eight Nations competition. Two groups of four teams. The teams playing each other round robin. One group consisting of the latest winner, latest no. 4, latest no. 6 and the winner of the European Nations Cup. The other group consisting of the latest no. 2, latest no. 3, latest no. 5 and the European Nations Cup runner up. After the three group games the two best in each group should play semifinals. The losers should meet to compete for the no. 3 spot before the winners play the Eight Nations grand final. The four remaining teams should meet in a similar play-off. The two teams with the least points after the two season Eight Nations tournament should play the winner and the runner up of the European Nations Cup in a new play-off to decide which teams should take part in the next Eight Nations. That should provide more nations a taste of the top level. The best teams would not play more games against poor opposition than today. All teams will have something to play for all through the tournament. The number of games would be as today.

  • Andrea Li Vigni

    Hi, first of all I do agree that Italian teams are not at the level for the Champions cup, I think that the system to qualify to Champions cup doesn’t work well, something similar to football maybe would be better, where just few teams from around Europe can access to the European competitions. Regarding the Six nation I do believe, Italy did a lot to progress, of course Rugby is not popular as football in my country, unfortunately I would say, but banning Italian team from the Six nation will not help to make Rugby a popular sport in Italy. There are a lot of good players, like Parisse, captain of Italy and as well as my and your favorite team, will not make any sense to not to have Italy in the Six nation, maybe a Six nation A and B will solve the problem. I also do believe that neither France nor England showed a lot of good rugby during the last World cup, anyway I do love this game and I am Italian hoping in the future to see a competitive team.