Mallett asks for co-operation
Rome - Italy coach Nick Mallett said on Friday that the country's rugby federation and its two Celtic League franchises need to work together to help the national team improve.
Italy host Ireland in their Six Nations opener on Saturday at the Stadio Flaminio here having never beaten their opponents in the competition.
They have also never beaten England or France in the Six Nations and their seven wins in 11 seasons have come mostly against Scotland, with a couple against Wales as well.
Everyone agrees that having Treviso and Aironi in the Celtic League this season has helped the national team move forwards but Mallett is still frustrated by both sides picking foreigners in crucial positions such as the half-back pairing.
That means players available to be selected for Italy are not getting that experience.
When Mallett started out in the job in 2007 his first choice fly-half was the then 24-year-old Andrea Marcato but he has since turned to naturalised Australians Craig Gower, 33, who is currently injured and now 30-year-old Kris Burton.
No Italian born players are knocking on the door for a starting berth at fly-half.
"It's not my problem, we gave many opportunities to Marcato at number 10 but he didn't have the ability for the national team, we couldn't keep playing with someone who didn't have that level," said Mallett.
"The important thing is to have players developing in the Celtic League so that we can take players who already have experience in that competition.
"It's not our job to develop players to play at international level, it's the role of rugby within the country.
"I'm not looking for excuses for nine and 10, we're very happy with those who are with our squad.
"(Scrum-half Edoardo) Gori is a top level player, if he hasn't played much at Treviso it's because he was injured before November.
"I played him because I saw him at under-20 level and he has the personality to take the pressure, he did really well against Australia.
"After November he played one or two games and then he got injured again, it's not a problem about Treviso's team selection.
"Burton played at number 10 but then (Treviso) signed (South African) Willem de Waal and (Burton) didn't play or he played at 15.
"The franchises should play players who can be interesting for the national team, we don't have many chances to see our players but the Celtic League is the ideal way.
"It's not my responsibility to tell their coaches who to pick because they have their own responsiblities but the franchises and the federation have to work much closer together."
Looking ahead to the Ireland game, South African Mallett admitted it was difficult to find any weaknesses in their opponents' game.
"Ireland improved a huge amount since the last World Cup, their coaching staff are really good," he said.
"They have a really good blend between backs and forwards, they basically have the Leinster backline who understand each other very well.
"They've always done well in line-outs, they're well organised and integrated between forwards and backs.
"They have a very good kicking game, a good scrum-half and fly-half, they're strong in every area and don't have any real weaknesses, we've got to be ready to defend well in all areas."
Italy captain Sergio Parisse says they will have to show more than heart to win on Saturday.
"We're working very hard as a group, leaving everything on the pitch every time we go onto it," he said.
"I can't ever ask for more from my team, they always show up and I'm proud of them.
"But I hope we play with intelligence tomorrow, we know that courage, desire and grit aren't enough at this level."