Rome - Italy coach Jacques Brunel has complained that his side is still "fragile" ahead of their Six Nations bow against champions Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
Italy enjoyed their best Six Nations campaign last season as they beat both France and Ireland at home and finished fourth.
But the new scrum laws brought into effect this season have taken away much of their strength in that area and their results have suffered since.
Brunel, who coached Perpignan to the 2009 Top 14 title, has also tried to instil a more attacking mentality in the side and admits that it has left them vulnerable.
"We've established this ambition but we remain fragile," said the 60-year-old Frenchman, who was assistant France coach to Bernard Laporte from 2001-07 and which saw them reach two successive World Cup semi-finals but were beaten by England on both occasions.
"Traditionally, Italian rugby likes the combat and contact. It was a little more based on defence.
"Since I arrived (after the 2011 World Cup) I've tried to balance it out, to put more emphasis on the ability to play and create.
"Sometimes we've managed that but then we've broken our balance.
"During the (last) Six Nations we had that balance between our creativity and our defence but then in the summer and autumn we lost our defence."
Brunel, though, believes one of the principal problems facing Italian rugby remains the lack of top level talent.
"We need top level players to create internal competition but we still don't have enough of that," he said.
"Italy has set up some academies, a whole pyramid structure building up to the top level, but for the moment those reserves haven't arrived."
One such problem position for many years since the 2003 retirement of Argentine-born Diego Dominguez, has been fly-half.
But Brunel dismisses that particular area as of special concern.
"We're not just missing one player," insisted Brunel. "When you're a small team the difficulty is not to be so in spirit, and in the eyes of those of the opponents, referees and commentators.
"For the referee it's always the Italian or the Canadian who's going to infringe at a ruck, not a New Zealander.
"The players also need to have the ambition to bulldoze the All Blacks rather than put the brakes on themselves."
Yet despite that fighting talk, Brunel was not about to set lofty objectives for the Six Nations, particularly as the Azzurri play only two home matches this year.
"It will be very difficult to do better (than last year), not least because of the calendar, with trips to Cardiff and Paris to start with, and two out of five matches at home.
"We don't have any numerical aims, we've gone back to the content of matches, the goal is to rediscover satisfaction, improve our level of play, especially in defence."