I sat watching the re-started 6 Nations last night, a catch up game for Ireland against Italy. The scoreline was somewhat predictable as Ireland scored 50 points to Italy’s 17. A try in ‘extra’ time for Italy could have a big influence on the eventual winners on Super Saturday. Ireland are a point to the good with their 7 tries, giving them the bonus point they needed to top the table.
Ireland play a resurgent France in Paris on the final weekend; they currently have a points difference of 38. Having seen England beaten at the Stade in February I’ll be surprised to see an Irish victory. However should that win happen they’ll need another bonus point to finish clear. England play Italy in Rome and have a points difference of 15. France also sit just one point below Ireland with a points difference of 13. So, all to play for on Super Saturday!
Italy joined the long running tournament in 2000, turning the 5 Nations into 6. France had joined the Home Nations Championship in 1910, a tournament first played in 1883. As I watched Italy heavily beaten I thought I’d get some cricket style insight into how they’ve fared before this, their 21st championship. Stats are such a cricket thing, but a look at the bald facts of Italy’s 20 plus years tells us a lot!
Excluding this year’s competition Italy have played 50 Six Nations matches, winning 12, drawing 1 and losing 37. They’ve beaten Scotland 7 times, Wales and France twice and Ireland once. The draw was against Wales, a year after they’d beaten them. Their last win came in 2015 , against Scotland, which means they’re on a run of 25 losses including 2020’s games.
The bi-annual trip to Rome to watch a Six Nations match is at the top of many rugby fans list, I’ve been twice and had a brilliant trip each time. I saw England win by 40 to 9 in 2016 then by 46 to 15 in 2018. Big wins for England, but I’m not a huge fan of one sided games. Are they good for the game, is Italy’s inclusion in the tournament improving things at club level in Italy? They certainly had a man mountain of a captain in Sergio Parisse, he had 142 appearances for Italy. But he was born in Argentina and while he did play for Benetton between 2003-05, he’s played most of his rugby in France, with 265 appearance for Stade Francais.
I was unaware of the background of the 23 in the squad yesterday. 7 of the 23 weren’t born in Italy, but only 3 of those seem to be ‘project’ players, with Jayden Hayward, New Zealand, Braam Steyn, South Africa and Johan Meyer, South Africa all now playing in Italy. Most teams have at least a couple of players qualified by residency, so Italy aren’t unusual in that. Only 2 of the squad play outside of Italy, Jake Polledri, Gloucester and Pietro Ceccarelli, Brive. 12 of the 23 play for Benetton and 9 for Zebre, so the bulk of the team ply their trade in Italy.
Benetton and Zebre play in the Pro14 and in the Conferences Benetton have fared better than Zebre finishing 3rd in Conference in 18-19. In the Pro12 in 16-17 Benetton finished in 10th and Zebre propped the table up in 12th. In Italy, a football mad country, there are 1,024 rugby clubs with 73,419 registered male players and 8,118 female players.
Before I sat down to crunch the stats I thought I’d find an overwhelming argument for Italy not to be a part of the 6 Nations, but the presence of so many Italian born players in the team as well as improving results for their 2 main teams, Benetton and Zebre has left me feeling otherwise. They really do need a win and soon, they play in the Autumn Nation Cup in Group B, which includes Fiji, France and Scotland. International rugby is very hard to come by for many teams, such as Georgia, they sit in Group A with England, Ireland and Wales. It’ll be very interesting to see how they do!