Azzurri out of their league
January 31, 2002
Diego Dominguez's boot has been the major source of points for Italy in the Six Nations © PA Photos
So another Six Nations Championship is upon us, and thank goodness for that, but I wonder if it really ought to revert to the good old Five Nations?
There's absolutely no doubt that this is truly one of the rugby world's greatest competitions and it certainly rivals the Tri-nations series in terms of intensity and competitiveness.
I always look forward to the Calcutta Cup match in particular because of the spirit in which it's played and the never-say-die attitude of both England and Scotland. The Scots more often than not are the underdogs, yet that's rarely a factor in the final outcome.
France is a pretty hot team these days too, although you're still never quite sure which trois coleurs side is going to run onto the field on any given day. Ireland has made great strides forward in the last couple of seasons, while Wales tends to be up and down, but still competitive.
That leaves Italy and frankly, I don't think they cut the mustard. I don't mean to be unkind or unfair, but the Azzuris are definitely out of their league in this competition and were granted entry prematurely.
Okay, so they sprang a major upset the one and only time that they actually won a game against Scotland in their debut season, but it has been all down hill since then and they could go even further south at a rapid rate in 2002.
The truth is that the Italians, even with their imported coaches and players, are simply not good enough to be playing in the Six Nations. They are a second tier team on a par with the likes of Canada and the USA, but here's the thing, the Canadians beat them the last time out and I'd rate the Eagles a good chance of doing the same.
Even though the logistics would make it a non-feasible proposition, Argentina would be a much better opponent for the Home Unions and France. Nowadays the Pumas are right up there with the best of them and would surely give England a good run for its money.
To my mind, Italy is trying to rush things. They'd be much better off playing against countries of equal ability because they'd have more time to develop players and hone their skills and they wouldn't be on the wrong end of ignominious defeats every year.
No prizes for guessing how they'll finish up in this year's Championship. And as for Alejandro Moreno's prediction that Italy can win the whole shebang in 10 years, dude, get a clue!
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup