Smith predicts 'eight years' before Italy can match rugby rivals

Emmeline MOORE
·2-min read

Coach Franco Smith predicted it could take eight years for the young Italy side he is building to be able to compete at the highest level in rugby.

The Azzurri fell to their 30th consecutive defeat in the Six Nations with a punishing 48-10 loss to an improved Ireland in Rome on Saturday.

The Irish scored six tries in the Stadio Olimpico for their first win in three matches this campaign.

All Italy's points came in the first half with a Johan Meyer try sparking hope before the break with Paolo Garbisi scoring an opening penalty and hitting a conversion.

"We all have to support these guys, because in seven to eight years this team will be competitive with everyone," said Smith, who took over after Conor O'Shea left following the 2019 World Cup.

"Before walking we will have to crawl."

The days are long gone when Italy beat Ireland twice in the one year, back in 1997, first in Dublin against a side that included O'Shea and in Bologna.

In between, Italy also got a win over France in Grenoble.

Italy went on to join the extended Five Nations in 2000, but have taken the 'wooden spoon' 15 times since.

Despite not winning in the tournament in six years since beating Scotland at Murrayfield, Smith believes Italy are on the right track by nurturing young talent, praising the performance of 20-year-old pair Garbisi and Jacopo Trulla.

"Garbisi is growing from game to game, as well as Trulla," continued Smith.

"Unfortunately for now we are not on a par with Ireland."

Carlo Canna, 28, is Italy's most experienced player, the fly-half earning his 50th cap against the Irish.

South African Smith, 48, added: "But you have to give credit to Ireland, who were under pressure after two defeats and came to Rome with great determination.

"For now they are better than us, even if we are doing everything to become like Ireland. "

The Azzurri have conceded 139 points in their past three matches, largely down to a porous defence.

Their last win in Rome was in 2013.

"We are a young team that needs to grow," added captain Luca Bigi, 29.

"We're frustrated but growth also passes through these games.

"We are attacked from all sides, but as a captain I can say that the heart and spirit have always been there."

ea/dj