Italy want to win quarter final place for Mallett

Italy full-back Luke McLean says that the Italians would love to reward outgoing coach Nick Mallett with a place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

The Azzurri face Ireland in their final Pool C match on Sunday in what is effectively a play-off for a place in the knockout phase, and the fixture could be Mallett’s last given Italian officials have decided against renewing his contract.

Former Springbok boss Mallett’s impending exit, after four years in charge, has surprised many observers.

It was only in March when the 54-year-old oversaw Italy’s first Six Nations win over France, having come close to guiding the team to glory against Ireland before a 13-11 loss in Rome a month earlier.

Italy narrowly missed out on a quarter-final place at the 2007 World Cup in France following an 18-16 loss to Scotland.

“The last World Cup against Scotland they lost by two points and didn’t make it through to the next round so when Nick took over the team, his goal was to make it through to the quarter-finals,” said McLean at Italy’s Dunedin hotel on Thursday.

Townsville-born McLean, who was an Under-19 World Cup-winner with his native Australia and qualified for Italy through his grandmother, explained how Mallett’s approach had helped the Azzurri.

“He’s very calm and very passionate as well and I think that works well for us,” said the 24-year-old McLean, capped 31 times by his adopted country.

“He’s had a lot of experience with big games and he really helps the boys stay calm and focused,” added McLean, who made his Italy debut under Mallett against South Africa in Cape Town in 2008.

“Our defensive line is a lot better than it was maybe a fair few years ago. I think that’s something he’s focused in on a lot and it’s paid dividends.”

Italy have long been renowned for their scrum and Mallett has backed his front row to overpower their Irish counterparts at the setpiece in the indoor environment of Dunedin’s Otago Stadium this weekend.

“The scrum we have, it may be one of the best in the world,” McLean said. “If we get good ball on the front foot that’s good for us, as long as they keep going forward and we keep getting the odd penalty here and there.”

But not even Italy’s scrum could prevent an agonising loss to Ireland last season, with fly-half Ronan O’Gara’s last-ditch drop-goal sealing victory for the visitors at the Stadio Flaminio.

“We had the chance to win with three minutes to go and then O’Gara hit the drop goal,” recalled McLean, who put Italy’s defeat down to “little things”.

“There was a kick-off and we didn’t take it and that gave them a chance to come into our 22 and to kick that drop-goal.

“You secure that ball, you play two minutes of pick-and-goes or you kick the ball down and they’ve got 80 metres to score three points.

“It’s those little things in tight games that make the difference.”

Although Mallett may be leaving Italy, McLean plans to stay there with club side Treviso.

“I’ve got another year on my contract. I’ve had a good time with Treviso,” he said. “Hopefully, with everything going well, I’ll stay for another couple of years.”

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