Italy’s recalled Griffen holds no grudges

Recalled New Zealand-born scrum-half Paul Griffen said he held no grudges despite having been over-looked by Italy coach Nick Mallett for the last 16 months.

Italy’s scrum-half crisis has seen South African Mallett pick the 33-year-old Calvisano number nine for the first time since taking the job following the 2007 World Cup in France for Sunday’s Six Nations encounter against Ireland at Rome’s Stadio Flaminio.

The World Cup was the last time Griffen pulled on the blue Azzurri shirt but he insisted that he wasn’t bitter about being sidelined for so long.

However, he admitted that it was difficult watching last week’s Twickenham debacle from his sofa while Stade Francais flanker Mauro Bergamasco committed a string of costly errors at scrum-half in Mallett’s ultimately failed experiment.

“Nick and (team manager) Carlo (Cecchinato) called me on Saturday night and told me exactly what the situation was and what they needed and that will stay between us obviously,” he said.

“I don’t know if it’s for one, two or four games or a long term thing or not but I wouldn’t imagine it would be a long term thing obviously with my age (he will be 34 next month) and the young fellas who’ve got to come back from injury.

“But I’m here, I’m always going to smile and enjoy it and do my best and I’m going to try to get the knees running around the track.

“I feel like a 20-year-old again.” Running around the pitch will be in stark contrast to a week ago when his team-mates were being thumped 36-11 by England while he was drinking beer and wondering why he wasn’t out there with them.

“I was sitting at home watching with quite a few beers. Obviously that did run through my mind a little bit but I can’t control what Nick decides,” he said.

“He’d said he wanted to try Mauro as a possible replacement scrum-half looking ahead to the next World Cup.

“Part of the conversation we had on Saturday night was about that and obviously things didn’t go as he would have wanted.

“When the phone call came, he brought me back. I was hoping as I always have been hoping for the last 16 months to come back and be part of the team.

“Situations change, things come and go, fortunately I’ve come back.

“I’m not the kind of person who holds grudges. We talked about it and the age thing was the major factor.

“I was lucky enough to be called in 2004 when Troncky (Alessandro Troncon) bust his knee and then stayed for four years, disappeared again but now I’m back and I’ll enjoy it.

“I’ll run around and do my things and laugh and smile, and whether it’s one game, two games or five games I’ll be as happy as Larry.”

Griffen will form part of a new half-back pairing alongside fellow Antipodean Luke McLean, an Australian with Italian grandparents on his mother’s side, who will be starting his first match in the Six Nations.

The pair are Calvisano team-mates but have never played together at half-back as McLean plays full-back for the Italian Super 10 champions.

They will have their work cut out against an Ireland team that was hugely impressive in beating France 30-21 in Dublin.

Griffen, though, is planning on keeping things simple.

“The only thing he (Mallett) said to me was he wants me to dive at their ankles and put people on the ground so Mauro (Bergamasco), Sergio (Parisse) and (Alessandro) Zanni and others can have better ball.

“He pretty much wants me to run and pass and be at the back of every ruck and distribute the ball as cleanly as possible.”


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