Italy deserve their day in the sun
March 12, 2011
Sergio Parisse leads Italy's celebrations after beating France © Getty Images
A simply stunning triumph. Italy's victory over France in Rome may not have been the greatest spectacle or the most compelling advert for the game but the result will ensure this game stands the test of time.
The greatest result in Italian rugby history? Maybe. But who would dare deny this gutsy group that accolade in the wake of this triumph? Ireland escaped the cauldron that is the Stadio Flaminio last month and Wales were also pushed to the limit so the warning signs were there and the faltering French simply did not heed them.
Italy coach Nick Mallett may not be blessed with the largest of talent pools but the belief he has instilled into his squad is priceless. They are not the most dynamic of sides but their commitment is unquestionable and a credit to the coaching and man-management skills of Mallett. There has been plenty of debate on his future in the role with his desire to continue seemingly not enough to convince the Italian Rugby Federation to re-sign their man. But you somehow know that FIR President Giancarlo Dondi will waste little time in drawing up that contract now.
Talismanic skipper Sergio Parisse was once again a key figure for Italy but he had plenty of willing co-horts in the likes of blindside Alessandro Zanni, tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni and scrum-half Fabio Semenzato. However, it was a superb team effort that rattled a shaky French side from the off and refused to let them settle into their stride. Defensive pressure played on the visitors' insecurities and clear mental fragility.
Even when the game looked to be slipping the way of so many previous encounter with the French, the Italians refused to buckle. Such is the confidence in their ability. Long gone are the days of the crushing defeats with their recent mauling at the hands of England a mere blip in their continued development. They now know they can compete with the best in Europe and this result will underline that belief and no doubt prove to be a key stepping stone to their World Cup challenge.
Make no mistake - Italy deserved this victory. If only they could perform to these standards away from their powerful home ground that so often acts as their 16th man.
The picture is clearly bleak for France. This is a game they should have won but one day in the not-so-far future they may welcome the painful wake-up call. Victory for a disorganised and sub-standard side would have merely papered over the cracks that have long been evident in coach Marc Lievremont's squad.
While Mallett can rest easy that his future is safe, the same cannot be said for Lievremont whose side hit another all-time low just a few short months after a hammering at the hands of Australia on their own patch. That game was a nightmare but this result is arguably worse coming as it did against an opponent that although on the up is some way short of Tri-Nations standard.
It remains to be seen whether the French Rugby Federation gives their coach the boot so near to a World Cup but he is a man under pressure and may even walk on the back of this display. One thing for sure is his side are going backwards at the worst possible time and less than 12 months after sweeping all before them in the northern hemisphere.
Errors peppered their performance and they clearly lacked the key ingredient to Italy's well-deserved triumph - belief. How a squad so talent-heavy can perform so poorly is a sad indictment on the coaching team. It does not take a highly-paid sports psychologist to see that all is not well with Les Bleus.
Halfbacks Francois Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra offered glimpses of the form that propelled their side to the Grand Slam last year but there was precious little of that dynamite. Lievremont's constant tinkering has had a detrimental effect on one what was not so long ago arguably the most potent combination in world rugby. And as impressive as captain Thierry Dusautoir's industry is, it is not enough to hide the shortcomings elsewhere.
Too many players are simply not performing and appear to lack the desire and hunger that should accompany every Test appearance. If they need a reminder of what it should feel like to play for your country they need look no further than the Italians.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards rewinds to 1864 to mark the birth of Welsh rugby's first authentic star - Arthur Gould
Michael Cheika has succeeded in becoming the Wallabies coach under his own terms, writes Greg Growden
In the blink of an eye, a winger can go from a hero to villain. Hugh Godwin talks to Zac Guildford and David Strettle about life on the flank
Munster, No.8s, the imploding Australians, wonderful Glasgow and Lancaster's dilemma - it is Monday Maul time