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Resurgent Italy have built an identity and belief


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Italy are unbeaten in their last three games in the Six Nations

A second successive victory in Wales saw Italy seal their greatest Six Nations campaign.

But the contrast in celebrations at the final whistle in Cardiff said everything about how far the Azzurri have come this season.

Two years ago, Paolo Garbisi dropped to the floor in tears after his last-gasp kick clinched a shock victory.

Here on Saturday, it was a less frenzied and more confident punch in the air to mark a job well done.

Victory in 2022 was a rarity, success this year was almost expected. The only surprise was that, in the end, the 24-21 scoreline grossly flattered Wales.

“The mindset that we now take onto the pitch is something we’ve never had before,” said their victorious captain Michele Lamaro.

“We’ve gained confidence and worked so hard for each other. We’ve been through lots of difficult moments and now we can celebrate the good ones.

“Two years ago was a wonderful feeling but this year is different. Now it’s not just about avoiding a Wooden Spoon, we know we can still do better.

“I’ve heard a thousand times that Italy has a bright future and I’m sick of it. We want to live for the moment and want to be competitive now… we want to win now.”

They finished with two victories and a draw but how close they came to four wins.

Other than the heavy loss to Ireland, Italy only lost by three points against England, beat Scotland and Wales, and came within the width of a post of winning in France.

It has been a remarkable turnaround under new coach Gonzalo Quesada. Just five months ago Italy, under Kieran Crowley, were humbled at the World Cup, conceding 96 points to New Zealand and 64 to France.

Wales reached a quarter-final but have regressed. Italy have spent the last few months building an identity and evolving a style built on the foundation of the Benetton club and fuelled by a new age-grade strategy initiated by Stephen Aboud, the architect of Ireland’s system.

“We needed to redefine the identity of this team, of what we wanted to be,” said Quesada in one of the four languages he speaks fluently.

“We had workshops and meetings with the players to look at the roots of Italian rugby and what makes it different.

“We wanted to improve the organisation of the set-piece but importantly, set them on a path to express themselves in attack. That is where rugby is going.

“The players immediately felt that change and believed in that change and today [against Wales] we saw the best game of that path.

“Two games doesn’t define a team, we said that after the World Cup and we’ll say it now.”

Italy silence critics

Before the victory over Wales in 2022, Italy had lost 16 games in a row in the Six Nations.

Their future in the championship was under serious scrutiny, with calls for promotion and relegation from the Rugby Europe Championship with the likes of Georgia, and since then Portugal, banging on the door.

“The pleasing thing for the Six Nations is that we now have a competitive Italy side,” said Wales head coach Warren Gatland after his side’s loss.

“For a long time they weren’t and we would make nine or 10 changes against them. But you can’t do that any more. They’re a quality team and a challenge to anyone.

“Their game management was excellent and something for us to learn from.”

No-one is questioning Italy’s place in the Six Nations today.

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