Dublin - Sergio Parisse insists Italy still deserve a place in the Six Nations despite their nine-try 58-15 humiliation by Ireland in Dublin.
Joe Schmidt's men failed to score more than a single try in their previous three games, but set a new Six Nations record with their tally at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
Had Ireland rounded off the 80th minute assault on the Italian line with a 10th try, the overall score would have improved upon their record 60-13 victory achieved in Italy's first tournament participation, way back in 2000.
Since then Italy have be left with the wooden spoon ten times (soon to be 11), while winning just 12 of 84 games, but there appears to be no desire to deny the Azzuri of their automatic qualification for the annual tournament.
"It is a question I think (that is asked) when you lose matches like that," Parisse, the Italy captain, admitted.
"People will say if Italy deserve to play this tournament or not. But when you see what we have done in the past, even against Ireland a couple of years ago (when Italy won 22-15 at home in 2013), I think Italy really deserve to play this tournament."
Jacques Brunel's men were not helped in Dublin by the absence of experienced players such as Martin Castrogiovanni, Edoardo Gori, Lorenzo Cittadini and Leonardo Ghiraldini, while they lost second row pair Marco Fuser George Biagi before half time.
It was a blow to their hopes of being competitive, and gave Ireland the opportunity to release some of the frustration that had built up in their previous three games.
"I've been beaten enough times by (Jacques Brunel's) Perpignan to know he's an astute strategist, but it's hard to exert your game on the opposition when you lose so many players early on," Schmidt said.
"Losing those players early on allowed us time and space to play and we capitalised on it well.
"We had some good scores, we hadn't much luck against France and England, when scores weren't awarded, so to finally release the pressure is nice."