Six Nations is too soon for Brunel’s ‘new’ Italy

New Italy coach Jacques Brunel says his goal if for Italy to become a Six Nations contender but admits that this season is too soon.

The Frenchman is about to take charge of his first match as the Azzurri head coach, having succeeded South African Nick Mallett following the end of the World Cup in October.

Under Mallett, who has a glowing reputation outside Italy despite opinions being split within the country, Italy finished with the wooden spoon three times in four years.

They also failed to qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals and won only three out of 20 Six Nations encounters — all at home.

But Mallett was widely credited with improving Italy physically and tactically so that the newest members of Europe’s top rugby table at least became regularly competitive.

Brunel believes that his four-year assignment is long enough to push Italy to the top of the table and into the top six teams in the world.

“Of course it is, if I wasn’t convinced about that then what am I doing here,” he asked.

“It’s what, three or four years? That’s nothing but it’s also a lot.

“Italy aren’t very far away, it’s true that they haven’t won many matches but they have been competitive against a lot of nations for some time.

“The scores are close, apart from (last season’s) thrashing by England.

“That means that we’re not so far away so if we can improve in several departments, I believe we have the ability.

“I don’t know if in three years we’ll win it but we must be able to. We need journalists to be saying before the tournament begins that Italy could win.

“If they say that, it would mean they recognise that this team could beat anyone.”

However, Brunel fully acknowledges that won’t happen this year, with Italy sure to start as rank outsiders.

“If we base it on the last year’s results then no but I hope we’re going to reverse that trend, in fact I’m sure we will.”

To do so Brunel is planning on working on the little details.

“In training we’ll work on their morale, the ability to take the initiative, the scope we’ll give the players to express themsevles,” added Brunel.

“The precision of their actions, the reactions they have with each other, we’ll maybe make a difference.”

But essentially he will be sticking to the tried and tested, even though he included some new faces in his original enlarged Six Nations preparation squad, named earlier this month.

“That’s what (France’s new coach Philippe) Saint-Andre has done and what all the teams will do,” said Brunel.

“We’re not going to make a difference with the small amount of time we’ve had to work, these guys have spent several months together and we’re going to rely on that.”

As for the Six Nations itself, Brunel believes his own countrymen –against whom Italy begin proceedings on February 4 — and Wales will be the teams to beat.

“We always think we have certainties at the beginning of the Six Nations, every year we think we know the teams but there is uncertainty.

“The Wales-France match at the end of the tournament should be between the favourites but who knows?

“Will that be a final? Will the English, who seem to have lost their way, rediscover their strength?

“Don’t forget that a year ago they were one step away from a Grand Slam. And will Ireland, who everyone always says are too old, finally become so?

“And the Scots who never stop improving, they should have beaten England at the World Cup, there wasn’t much in that.”

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