A MUST-WIN game for both sides, however, both nations have very different reasons for wanting to record the sweet taste of victory.
Should Italy go on to lose this game against the misfiring Ireland, it will notch up an astonishing run of 30 successive losses in the Six Nations.
I know this statistic may be hard to comprehend, but it is there etched in thick black ink and the cries for the Azzurri to be replaced with one of the other tier-two nations are now becoming louder and louder in the ears of the decision-makers.
The truth of the matter is that Italy simply does not have the required infrastructures to compete at this level and unless somebody has the courage to sanction their discharge from the northern hemisphere's marquee event, the respect that it commands will soon be a thing of the past.
Thirty losses on the bounce are not only demoralising for Italy, but it is also a complete waste of time for the sides that are inflicting these defeats.
Whether it's monetary or otherwise, success in sport normally boils down to figures and when you consider that the Italian coaches have only about 60 professional players (two teams) to select from, it actually beggar’s belief how they can even compete in the first place.
For as long as I can recall Italian rugby has had to rely on one or two key players that were good enough to carry the rest of the team and that will never be good enough in an environment where every position needs a proficient expert.
Taking up the slack left behind by lesser players is all well and good in a none professional ecosystem however, when it comes to international rugby there is zero room for the weaker specimens.
In the wilderness, I believe they call this the survival of the fittest.
One such player that took all that was thrown at him and came out smiling was Sergio Parisse. Parisse wore the Italian blue on 142 occasions and he was simply world-class.
Right up until his last appearance in 2019 the magnificent number eight showcased why he would have been good enough to grace any national team in the world.
Today at the tender age of 37 he still plays professionally with Toulon, but thankfully he had the wisdom to realise that with the amount of mileage his body has had to endure it was time to call it on his international career.
Andrea Masi, Mirco Bergamasco, Diego Dominguez, Martin Castrogiovanni and Marco Bortolami are some of the other Italian greats that have come and gone, and it is looking like we will not see their equals anytime soon.
In their current squad, they have a couple of players that might make the bench in one of our provincial setups, namely Tommaso Allan who can play fly-half, centre- or full-back, but apart from that if Ireland are serious about their endevours about competing for a World Cup, every single player in Andy Farrell’s squad should be at least 25 percent better than their opposing number.
Come the end of this game, if there are not 40 points separating these two sides Farrell, his fellow coaches and the players should view the afternoon’s work as a complete failure.
If we are ever going to compete with the bigger nations on a consistent basis, we must cast aside the mediocrity that has always cloaked our ambitions.
“Ireland must not underestimate inventive and ambitious Italy.”
This was a headline that adjourned one of our national newspapers during the week and it summed up the Irish temperament flawlessly.
What it should have read was, “Ireland must completely expose the hapless Italians and be ruthless in doing so.”
In this country, we look for excuses long before a ball is even kicked because of a lack of belief and an unwillingness to think outside the box.
As sure as night follows day, I can guarantee you that someone within the Irish management or one of the players will come out on Saturday and tell us that obtaining the win is the most important thing in this game and for me, that’s a complete cop-out.
Up front, the Irish front row should be destroying their opposing trio and winning a penalty every time they scrum down.
Our ball carriers should be winning all the physical confrontations and looking to keep the ball alive after they’ve powered their way through a defence that has leaked over 90 points in their last two games.
In defence, if Italy are allowed to even reach the gain-line then we are not working hard enough and the dominance we have shown in the line-out needs to continue but with a much better return from when we decide to maul.
The message from Ireland’s backs coach Mike Catt, that there is an onus on Ireland’s players to make better decisions when they have the ball is spot on.
I realise that young inexperienced players will look for direction from their coaches however, in Ireland’s case there is nothing the likes of Sexton and Murray should need to be told and if they start this stupid and boring kick tennis philosophy again, I actually hope they lose the game.
There can be no excuses after this one. It’s either win and do so by destroying your feeble opponents along the way or move on.
“Trample the weak. Hurdle the dead.” So said Attila the Hun.
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