Italy’s football team have been one of the most dominant on the world stage during their proud history. The Azzurri have won the World Cup four times and have claimed the European crown once, while also finishing as runner-up on two occasions.
However, that success has not spread to the fortunes of Italy’s national rugby side. Since entering the Six Nations in 2000, the Azzurri have finished bottom of the standings on 15 occasions, including the last five years in a row. Franco Smith’s men are once again on course to finish bottom of the competition this time around, although value can be found at 500/1 in the Six Nations 2021 odds for Italy to turnaround their form. It would be unlikely, to say the least, given their mauling at the hands of France in their opener at the Stadio Olimpico.
Despite being present in the competition for 20 years, Italy have displayed no signs of improvement. The Azzurri have failed to build an identity on the pitch and not developed sufficient talent to allow them to seriously compete for the crown. They have finished fourth twice in the competition, most recently in 2013 after beating France and Ireland. It was their best performance to date, but there was no growth after the fact. The Azzurri are now in a position where they have lost 28-straight matches in the competition, which has led to calls for them to be relegated from the Six Nations, affording another country the opportunity to replace them in the fold.
Whereas Italy’s football team have created a culture of resilience over their illustrious tenure at the top of the men’s game. No team has developed a stoic identity better on the world stage than the Azzurri due to the talent flowing through the ranks. Keepers Dino Zoff and Gianluigi Buffon have been dominant between the posts, producing a level of excellence and longevity that has given managers peace of mind at the back. In front of them, legends like Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Fabio Cannavaro, Claudio Gentile, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci have carried on the standard of brilliance in the Azzurri rearguard.
Italy have produced quality attacking players, but the true identity of the system is to not give their opponents an inch in the final third. It has served them well in major competitions, and will likely continue to do so in the future. However, Italy’s rugby team are not blessed with the same resilience, which was evident in their defeat to France in their 2021 opener, conceding 50 points to Les Bleus. At their best they exhibited a stoic defence, allowing only 111 points from their five matches in 2013 and 147 in 2007 when they also placed in fourth. But the formula is there for Smith and his coaching staff to drum into their players.
France have had their issues of late in the Six Nations, but the appointment of Shaun Edwards as their defensive coach has seen the team turn a corner to compete for the crown. Italy have the spirit within their culture, and Smith needs to bring it out in his team on the field to avoid a future that could threaten their participation in future Six Nations tournaments.