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Zebre statement: Struggling Italians have sacked Michael Bradley

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

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United Rugby Championship strugglers Zebre Parma have parted company with long-serving boss Michael Bradley, the ex-Ireland scrum-half who had been in charge of the Italians since the start of the 2017/18 season. The Corkman arrived at a time when his fellow countryman Conor O’Shea was in charge of the Italian national team.

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He inherited a franchise that found it near impossible to progress in the then PRO14 but over time Bradley grew his squad’s depth and had them playing an entertaining brand of rugby that was easy on the eye at times.

However, winning results remained difficult to come by and following the 14-39 derby defeat to Benetton in a season where all six URC matches have so far been lost, Zebre have now taken the decision to move on from Bradley.   

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What happened when RugbyPass went behind the scenes at Michael Bradley’s Zebre
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What happened when RugbyPass went behind the scenes at Michael Bradley’s Zebre

A statement from the Italians read: “Zebre reports Michael Bradley has been relieved of his post as head coach of the federal franchise. The club has taken this decision to anticipate the technical renewal path planned for the coming seasons.

“The whole company wishes to express its utmost gratitude to Michael for the commitment and contribution made over the years and for the wonderful human and professional journey undertaken together. Best wishes to Michael for the continuation of his career.”

Having spent the majority of his long coaching career in the URC (and its previous guises), Bradley has been a passionate advocate of the tournament compared to its rival Premiership and Top 14 competitions. 

It was December 2019, in an interview with RugbyPass, when Bradley accused the likes of Exeter and Saracens of hiding the ball from spectators unlike in the URC where teams try to be more creative.  “You know, you can fall asleep watching some of that rugby,” he said at the time.

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“PRO14 rugby is much more exciting than Premiership rugby, has been for years. The dominant side is Saracens and the next dominant side is Exeter and both those sides became dominant because they basically hide the ball from the public for a year.” 

This year is the 21st season the URC has taken place in its variety of different guises and Bradley has been involved in 14, head coaching at Connacht for seven, Edinburgh for two and he was now into his fifth at lowly Zebre before the plug was pulled on his tenure on Tuesday.  

About his Italian project, where he shook up his backroom staff in June 2020, he added: “We are not happy with the results to date but the direction the team is going in, we have got a much better team this year. People from the teams that we have played recognise that as well and have set their teams up accordingly. 

“For the first time we have the ability to rest and rotate players which puts us on the same level as most of the other sides, so we will stick with the brand of rugby we are trying to play which is keeping the ball alive, keeping it up off the ground, keeping it fast. 

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“We will make mistakes but if we keep practicing and keep our focus on this area, we will get better and better and we will start knocking over some decent teams and getting to the play-off side of things.”

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