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
RFU CEO gives COVID-19 planning & support update
Bill Sweeney – RFU, CEO
My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU continue to be with everyone impacted by the difficult and exceptional situation we are all facing, both across the country and within our own rugby union community.
Earlier today we held a virtual board meeting and I am writing to advise you of the actions that have been agreed to offer a support package directly funded from the RFU worth £7m to provide support for community clubs in England.
To support clubs we are today announcing that the RFU will be providing a £7m relief package for community clubs. The package includes monies ring fenced and diverted for the community game as well as additional funding. These measures include:
• An early release of £800,000 cash due to clubs through the ticketing fund.
• Early release of final funding payments (£600,000) to Constituent Bodies and suspension of the activity plans against which this was allocated, enabling them to utilise this to provide “immediate support grants” to clubs most in need. In addition £400,000 will be made available to Constituent Bodies who elect to match fund from their own reserves.
• A suspension of the Quarterly loan repayments for clubs with outstanding loans due in March (£335,000).
• The creation of a £5m support loans programme, offering loans of between circa £2k and circa £10k to clubs, with deferred re-payments for six months and repayable over three years.
We will be providing more details on this financial package in the coming week. We will also be issuing regular club recovery updates with practical advice on how government grants can be accessed as well as other business management advice.
We welcome government interventions which will provide business rate holidays and grants for clubs.
The RFU will continue to provide a free helpline to assist clubs with legal and tax related matters: https://www.englandrugby.com/participation/running-your-club/legal-and-administration
Significant progress has been made on the process for considering the implications of ending the season early. We will ensure a fair and balanced outcome for the game and are now committed to update on this by the middle of April.
No one can predict every possible outcome of the COVID-19 outbreak particularly with regard to the duration of this crisis and we are managing in the unknown. We have modelled three potential scenarios and are working on an assumption based on a medium term impact with a view to a return to rugby in the autumn. We will continue to monitor against this assumption and review and revise planning where necessary.
The RFU had budgeted for a loss making year within a four year cycle due to the costs of the 2019 RWC campaign and hosting only two home Six Nations games. The loss will now be considerably more as we face challenges similar to businesses across the country.
The RFU’s biggest asset is also a major cost and the closure of Twickenham Stadium has a significant impact on the revenues we can generate to re-invest back into the game. In that sense we are like every other club in the Union, when we do not stage matches and events we do not generate revenue.
Based on our planning assumption we estimate RFU revenue losses over the next 18 months to be approximately £45-£50 million and have a firm plan in place to mitigate this. The RFU Executive Team will be taking a cut in remuneration in excess of 25%. In addition, combined Board fees will be reduced by 75%.
We are continuing our support to ensure colleagues and communities are given help to follow government advice and are providing recommendations on how to stay fit and healthy and a range of new content will be made available to players and fans across our social media channels.
We are discussing with government and the NHS the role the RFU and Twickenham Stadium can play in providing volunteers as well as support for the NHS including accommodation, parking and meal provisioning.
I am confident that rugby will play a big role in energising communities across England after this difficult period. In the meantime, we are working hard with the wider rugby community to take the necessary measures to safeguard a financially resilient Union so that we can.
Rodney Parade to help in fight against coronavirus
Rodney Parade has become the latest sporting venue to open its doors to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
The Newport stadium has been provided free of charge as a base for front-line NHS staff to check if they have the virus and are able to continue working. At this stage only NHS staff are eligible to be tested at Rodney Parade to see if they have COVID-19. Dragons managing director Mark Jones said: “The health service and care workers are doing an incredible job in such difficult circumstances so we are happy to offer our help and support in any way we can.
“Playing our part in the local community is at the heart of what we’re about at the Dragons and in times of crisis people stick together. We would urge everyone to follow the latest NHS advice on protecting themselves from the virus, particularly to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel.”
A statement from Aneurin Bevan Health Board read: “The health and wellbeing of our staff is essential for delivering services for the people of Gwent. It is fundamental during this time when the most vulnerable people need us most.
“We have set up a drive-through facility to test staff for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and help us get our teams back in to work on the front line. The testing site is located at Rodney Parade in Newport and we ask that everyone practises the stay-at-home guidance and does not visit the site.
“Everyone at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board would like to thank the team at Rodney Parade for their community-focused approach and accommodating us during these difficult times.”
IRFU And Rugby Players Ireland Agree Pay Deferrals
Result of COVID-19
These deferrals, based on an equitable sliding scale which ranges from 10% – 50%, will be effective from April, and beyond if required, but will remain subject to constant review of the financial circumstances of the IRFU and Provinces.
The IRFU hopes to return to full pay, and repay any deferrals, as soon as possible.
IRFU CEO Philip Browne said,
“We are entering uncharted waters as the Covid-19 crisis continues to unfold but we remain hopeful that something of this season can be retrieved later in summer. This is important as the whole game, amateur and professional, is financially dependent on the resumption of the professional tournaments and the revenues that they generate. With postponement of these tournaments the IRFU and the Provinces are facing some daunting financial challenges around loss of revenue and cash flow and we must cut our costs.
The IRFU has worked closely with our provincial colleagues and our partners in Rugby Players Ireland to move to protect the future of Irish Rugby and this arrangement will allow Irish Rugby the breathing space required in relation to cashflow that can ensure that when this crisis abates, we still have a business that can deliver for all those that play and love rugby. The situation will obviously remain under continuous review in case further action is required.
I thank all our partners, Rugby Players Ireland and all our employees for standing with us at this time.”
RPI CEO Simon Keogh said,
“We recognise the need to work with the IRFU with respect to these payment deferrals in light of the current circumstances. All endeavours have been made to contact those affected on an individual basis. Our members appreciate that such moves are necessary in order to protect the future of the game in this country. The health and safety of the public is the priority at this time. We will continue to work with the IRFU as this situation develops.”
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