Big crowds turned out last November to see Italy’s autumn Internationals. Passionate people who never fail to cheer us on.
I want to start by saying this because I think our supporters are not only the best in the world but understand Italian rugby better than anybody. They understand perfectly well that we’re always facing teams that are bigger, stronger and better than us and never fail to encourage us. I’m proud of their enthusiasm.
On the other side, there have been questions by the critics about the fact that I’ve only won five of my 31 games with Italy, so I’ve had to remind everybody that I’ve been very successful wherever I’ve coached. I get offers every day from all over the world, and I’m pretty sick and tired of being questioned about the way Italy play and the results we get.
We’re growing slowly but surely. Those who can’t see that understand nothing about rugby. Of my 31 Tests with Italy, we’ve played an unprecedented ten times against Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, losing by the smallest margin ever to each one. And I’d like to remind those who complain that we very rarely win that we’ve never played a game against a team ranked below us. In fact, we’ve defeated all those squads within our range: Samoa, Fiji and the Scots.
Now, on the eve of the Six Nations, I’m feeling very positive. As far as spirit and attitude go, I have the best possible bunch of players. They never give up or lose faith, even if they’re always up against teams that are better than us. That’s the trademark of my teams.
Our autumn Tests were encouraging. We lost to Argentina but dominated territory and possession. It was very disappointing, but as a coach there were lots of positives to build on.
The week after, we only conceded two tries to the Wallabies, who then scored seven in France. We went through phases and kept possession against the second best squad in the world, but we squandered chances; one particular poor pass denied Tommaso Benvenuti, 20, a simple try under the posts.
Benvenuti wasn’t the only youngster we played that day. ‘Ugo’ Gori made his debut at scrum-half and played very, very well. I don’t think many coaches would have risked playing him in such an important match, given that he had still to make his Magners League debut for Treviso.
Against Fiji we probably played the best 40 minutes of my spell. We went from 16-9 down to win 24-16 thanks to eight penalties by Mirco Bergamasco, who is now one of the most reliable goalkickers on the international scene.
So there is plenty to be optimistic about. We’ve very good forwards, but in the backs we lack the physical presence and speed of other teams; we’ve no Shane Williams nor Aurélien Rougerie, and that’s why sometimes we fail to score tries. We’re looking to put it right.
This article appeared in the March 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine
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