Opinion: Don't be too hard on Italy

Ireland had a terrible record during the 1990s

BY Simon Maguire 10:08 Tuesday 21 February 2017, 10:08 21 Feb 2017

Italy's head coach Conor O'Shea at the press conference after the match. Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Italian rugby has come under fire in recent years due to their continually poor performances in the Six Nations since their addition to the tournament in 2000.

They have "won" the Wooden Spoon on 11 occasions so far and are on course to be awarded the dreaded prize again this year.

Italian success in the competition has seen them beat every team except England but they have only won 12 of their 87 matches in the tournament thus far.

Dejected Italy players after losing to Ireland. Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Their two professional sides, Treviso and Zebre, are the regular whipping boys in the Guinness PRO12 Championship while whichever group they find themselves in in the Champions Cup almost always sees two teams qualify from those groups.

The Italian's poor form is amplified by the relative success Argentina are having after finally being added to the Tri-Nations in the southern hemisphere in 2012, leading to the creation of the Rugby Championship. 

The South American's embraced the attacking rugby demanded in the bonus point driven tournament and the increased exposure to playing the top teams in the world led to them to semi-final spot at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Looking back at the 1990s, Ireland endured a relatively terrible run in what was then the Five Nations Championship.

The Irish team distraught at the final whistle against France in 1998. Image: ©INPHO/Patrick Bolger

Every year from 1990 to 1999, Ireland finished in the bottom two. The game turned professional in 1995 after the World Cup in South Africa and it took Ireland five years to adapt to the changes.

Syd Millar and those involved at the IRFU got their strategy right and contracted all their players centrally to the union. This blueprint has since become the envy of most unions around the globe.

The provincial academies are churning out high-level talent annually and our supposed "golden generation" has been replaced almost seamlessly.

The IRFU has also targeted "project players" relatively successfully with CJ Stander and Jared Payne proving effective additions to the Irish playing roster.

Italy might not have the chance to invest in appropriate "project players" now given the momentum growing to changing the residency rule from three to five years. 

Conor O'Shea has stated his goal for Italy is to radically change the structures in the country so he can build a sustainable model for the future. Given the struggles the Italians have endured thus far in the northern hemisphere's showpiece tournament, he should be given the time to do so. 


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