There have been calls for Italy to be replaced in the competition by the likes of Georgia as people are becoming frustrated watching them become the whipping boys of the tournament.
Wales were able to change 10 players in their starting XV when they met Italy over the weekend and still came away with a win, however, the difference was only 11 points this year, compared to 24 last year.
Even against Scotland, Italy showed a spirit to keep going to the end and were rewarded with three tries in the final 10 minutes, something we wouldn’t have seen before.
Results are one thing that speak volumes but what Conor O’Shea has begun in Italy is a system of building the country into one that compete.
He has targeted the two main clubs in Italy as the place to lay the foundations of this structure and nobody can argue that it isn’t working.
Yes, there may only be two points separating them in second and Ulster in fifth, but they are in with a real shout of claiming a semi-final spot and that is not something that should be laughed at.
Zebre on the other hand are currently bottom of Conference A but there is progress for one of the two.
Italy captain Sergio Parisse has often talked of O’Shea’s tactics and his admiration for them.
“Over the past three years with Conor we have started making a lot of changes in Italy, working behind the scenes with the two franchises,”
“Personally, I wish we’d made those changes 10 years ago. But it’s better now than to continue doing nothing,”
Parisse himself is one of only three players in the 31-man Italian squad not to be playing his trade in his home country showing O’Shea’s belief in the grassroots programme they are creating.
With 18 of the 31 coming from Benetton it will surely encourage future players to continue their development in their home nation.
On the international stage itself there has been less of a reliance on the legendary No 8 too. With players such as Tomasso Allan, Braam Steyn and Edoardo Padovani showing they are capable of performing to a higher level.
The simple fact is that despite all the losses and talk of being cut out of the tournament, Italy only started this process three years ago, not 10 like Parisse wishes.
In three years, Benetton have gone from bottom of the table to a possible Champions Cup team. That is incredible in itself and it is clear that the players are able to compete at club level.
Time will tell if they can replicate that on an international stage, and if Zebre can match Benetton’s heights, but maybe for now we should cut them some slack.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we should remember that before we crush the dream’s being developed in the Italian hearts or we could regret losing a potentially great team out of
Ireland name Six Nations Squad
O’Toole was named in the Ireland panel at the start of the 2020 Championship, while Casey, who won a Grand Slam with the Ireland Under-20s in 2019, trained with the squad last October.
In the opening round Ireland will take on Wayne Pivac’s Wales at the Principality Stadium. Their first two games of the 2021 Championships against Wales and France will both take place on Sunday afternoons.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell commented: “Since the autumn international window, the club season has had a good few disruptions and the cancellation of the European fixtures means there have been less opportunities for players to show form or to return from injury and get some minutes under their belts.
“Tadhg (Furlong) hasn’t played in quite a while but he is ready to join the group. Unfortunately Jacob (Stockdale) will not be available to us.”
All Ireland games will be televised on Virgin Media in the Republic of Ireland, and on ITV (v France, Italy & England) and BBC (v Wales & Scotland) in Northern Ireland.
Ireland Squad – 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championship:
Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 30
Billy Burns (Ulster) 3
Ross Byrne (UCD/Leinster) 11
Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster) *
Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster) 24
Shane Daly (Cork Constitution/Munster) 1
Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 88
Chris Farrell (Young Munster/Munster) 14
Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster) 5
Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 47
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster) 6
Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 24
James Lowe (Leinster) 2
Stuart McCloskey (Bangor/Ulster) 4
Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 87
Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 30
Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) (capt) 95
Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster) 17
Will Connors (UCD/Leinster) 5
Caelan Doris (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 7
Ultan Dillane (Galway Corinthians/Connacht) 17
Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 25
Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 104
Dave Heffernan (Buccaneers/Connacht) 5
Iain Henderson (Academy/Ulster) 58
Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 16
Ronan Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster) 6
Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) 39
Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 73
Tom O’Toole (Banbridge/Ulster) *
Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 32
Quinn Roux (Galwegians/Connacht) 16
Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 26
James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 32
CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 46
Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) 28
* Denotes uncapped player
Ireland 2021 Guinness Six Nations Fixtures:
Wales v IRELAND
Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Sunday 7th February, KO 15.00
VIRGIN / BBC
IRELAND v France
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Sunday 14th February, KO 15.00
VIRGIN / ITV
Italy v IRELAND
Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Saturday 27th February, KO 14.15
VIRGIN / ITV
Scotland v IRELAND
BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Sunday 14th March, KO 15.00
VIRGIN / BBC
IRELAND v England
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Saturday 20th March, KO 16.45
VIRGIN / ITV
Pivac names squad for 2021 Six Nations
The squad features one uncapped player, Scarlets back-row Josh Macleod, who was named in the autumn squad last year but didn’t feature after picking up an injury before the campaign began.
Four players who made their international debuts in that campaign, Kieran Hardy, Callum Sheedy, Johnny Williams and Louis Rees-Zammit are all included.
Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones and Rhodri Jones (last appearance for Wales v South Africa in 2018) are named as the looseheads in the squad with Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias and Ken Owens (who missed the autumn campaign through injury) the hookers. Leon Brown, Tomas Francis and Dillon Lewis are the three named tight-heads.
Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Will Rowlands and Cory Hill are included as the second-rows.
Dan Lydiate returns to the international set-up (last appearance v Australia in 2018) and is named alongside Josh Navidi, Aaron Wainwright, Taulupe Faletau, Macleod and Justin Tipuric.
Hardy who made his debut back in November is named as one of three scrum-halves along with Gareth Davies and Tomos Williams, who has returned from injury. Dan Biggar, Jarrod Evans and Sheedy are the three fly-halves.
Johnny Williams, Jonathan Davies, Nick Tompkins and Owen Watkin are named as the centres with George North, Josh Adams, Hallam Amos, Rees-Zammit, Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams named as Wales’ back-three options.
“We are hugely looking forward to meeting up as a squad on Monday and to the forthcoming campaign,” said Wales head coach Wayne Pivac.
“The Guinness Six Nations is an important tournament and we have selected a squad accordingly.
“As we consistently spoke about, the autumn for us was about opportunity and development, looking ahead to RWC 2023 and it served that purpose for us.
“This campaign is different, it is tournament rugby and we are excited to get going and to play our part.
“We have picked a squad for this tournament based on form and we are excited to meet up on Monday and to get our preparation underway.”
Scotland name Six Nations squad.
The group, split between 20 forwards and 15 backs, sees eight new players called up who did not feature in the group that contested the recent 2020 Autumn Nations Cup.
In the pack Glasgow Warriors hooker George Turner is selected and joined in the front row by Zander Fagerson and Oli Kebble from Glasgow Warriors, alongside Edinburgh Rugby representatives WP Nel, Rory Sutherland and Simon Berghan.
Glasgow Warriors’ lock pairing Richie Gray and Scott Cummings, Exeter Chief, Jonny Gray are called up, along with Edinburgh’s Grant Gilchrist who left the ANC squad with an injury before the opening match.
Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie, who have both recently re-signed to long-term deals to stay at Edinburgh Rugby, are joined as back-row options by Glasgow Warrior Matt Fagerson and Scarlet’s Blade Thomson.
Gregor Townsend has chosen just two scrum-half’s for this campaign with Glasgow Warriors’ Ali Price and Harlequins’ Scott Steele selected.
Linking up at half-back will be Racing 92’s Finn Russell who returns following an injury sustained in the concluding match of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations vs Wales and Edinburgh’s Jaco Van de Walt who made his Scotland debut in the ANC semi-final against Ireland.
Gloucester’s Chris Harris, Saracen Duncan Taylor, Glasgow Warrior Huw Jones and Harlequins’ James Lang are selected at centre.
In the back three Scotland Captain Stuart Hogg is joined by Edinburgh Rugby trio Blair Kinghorn, Darcy Graham and Duhan van de Merwe and Saracens’ Sean Maitland.
With an eye to the future three additional players have been invited to train with the squad during the campaign. Edinburgh Rugby back row forward, Rory Darge, Glasgow Warriors pair winger, Rufus MacLean and scrum-half, Jamie Dobie will join up with the squad, which goes into camp on Sunday.
Speaking on the squad selection Gregor Townsend said: “As coaches we have selected a group which we believe can build on the work our players put in throughout the recent Autumn Nations Cup campaign and kick on again in terms of performance levels.
“The depth we have across the squad enables us to bring in some new players who have excelled in recent weeks and others who we believe can perform at Test level.
“Our tournament gets off to a fantastic start with a fixture we look forward to every year against England and the opportunity to win back the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham.
“We are very aware how different this year’s competition will be due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it also provides a huge amount of positivity and enjoyment for millions of supporters and we are looking forward to contesting every match and giving this championship our very best.”