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'You can put Joe Schmidt, Wayne Smith, the great coaches in the world in there and it's not going to make a significant difference'

By Liam Heagney

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Italy have been labelled such an inadequate Guinness Six Nations team that not even someone of the world-class calibre of a Joe Schmidt or a Wayne Smith could make a significant difference to results if they took over from Franco Smith. 

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Saturday’s championship defeat was their 31st loss in succession, a wretched run dating back to February 2015 when they defeated Scotland at Murrayfield. 

So far in the 2021 tournament, they have conceded 187 points, a tally that includes 26 tries, and with just one match remaining next Saturday away to Scotland, they are set to finish bottom of the table yet again. 

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Finn Russell guests on RugbyPass Offload with Simon Zebo and Ryan Wilson
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Finn Russell guests on RugbyPass Offload with Simon Zebo and Ryan Wilson

It’s a sorry state of affairs that left ex-Scotland coach Matt Williams and recently retired Italy player Ian McKinley in despair when they summarised the Italians’ latest Six Nations loss to Wales, a seven-try, 48-7 hammering in Rome. 

Speaking on Virgin Media Television in Ireland after the game, Williams said: “You have got to question Franco Smith’s methods but while we are doing it, we also have to realise this is not a coaching problem, this is a systemic problem. 

“You can put Joe Schmidt, Wayne Smith, the great coaches in the world and you throw them in there and it’s not going to make a significant difference. It could make some difference but they have a huge systemic problem that they are refusing to recognise because this has been going on not just for six months or a year or two, this is many, many, years now.

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“Their body language from about minute five was they were a beaten side. Your defence is a barometer of your spirit, your commitment and the defence was terrible.”

McKinley, the 31-year-old Irishman who won nine caps for Italy between 2017 and 2019, four of them off the bench in the Six Nations, added: “I was positive after the England game. You could see some blueprint in what Italy were trying to do, a bit of fight but the last two performances have been way below par from an international standard.

“That was definitely the worst performance, there is no sugar-coating it. From the first kick-off, it just got worse during the game and from an Italian point of view, they were lucky that it wasn’t 60 or more. 

“Wales were clinical but again, much like Ireland a couple of weeks ago, Italy didn’t throw a punch. They couldn’t their attack game going, it was probably too lateral, their defensive drive struggled hugely. 

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“You’re just compounding error on top of error. I feel like I’m repeating myself but until you sort out those issues they make a massive difference in international rugby and if you don’t get them the scoreline is going to be what it is. Two years ago we lost 26-15 to Wales. To lose by 40 points is not acceptable.”

Speaking at half-time, with Italy having already conceded the four-try bonus point to Wales, McKinley said: “That has been the worst performance of this campaign, even in the last few years. It has lacked everything. It started off badly with the first restart from Paolo Garbisi going dead and it got worse from there. 

“Barely a punch has been thrown if you are to use boxing terms. Attack has been poor. Discipline had been poor, defence. It really is hard to watch and as an ex-player with them and a fan it’s really hard.” 

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'You can put Joe Schmidt, Wayne Smith, the great coaches in the world in there and it's not going to make a significant difference'

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