Mallett sees Celtic League positives for Italy

Italy coach Nick Mallett on Monday said the inclusion this season of Treviso and Aironi into the Celtic League is already starting to pay dividends.

For the first time, Italian teams are taking part in the league that previously only featured Irish, Welsh and Scottish teams.

South African Mallett had long campaigned for the inclusion of Italian teams in the hope that it would help improve the standard of the domestic game.

Italy has been playing in the Six Nations for 11 years but have picked up the wooden spoon in eight of those and have managed only seven wins in 55 matches.

And Mallett knows they need something else to take the step up to the next level.

Ahead of three November internationals against Argentina (Nov 13 in Verona), Australia (Nov 20 in Florence) and Fiji (Nov 27 in Modena), Mallett is happy with the Italians’ debut in the Celtic League.

Although Aironi have lost their first four games, Treviso have managed two wins.

“I think all the (Italian) international players at Treviso and Aironi had a good approach to the new tournament from the start and have realised how much higher the standard is,” he said.

“Treviso have started well and their victory against Leinster was encouraging.

“Aironi have had some difficult matches with a series of away games. It hasn’t been an easy start but now they have some home games which they can exploit to start winning and picking up points.”

Looking ahead to Italy’s first test against Argentina, Mallett believes these games, less than a year before the World Cup in New Zealand, are crucial.

“The first autumn international will be very important.

Argentina are at the same level as us and if we exploit home advantage, we can beat them.

“In 2008 in Turin we weren’t great but in Verona we must do better than two years ago (a 22-14 defeat).

“They’re very strong up front and have great individuals but we have to avoid playing to their strengths and attack them with the ball in hand.

“That could make the difference.” And that is one area that Mallett admits the team needs to improve.

“We need to improve our running game. New Zealand’s front five all play like back rowers, we have forwards who are very good in the scrum and in closed situations but we have to improve in other areas of the game or we’ll struggle to score tries.”

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