Captain Sergio Parisse earned the unwanted record of a 100th Test defeat in Italy's last-gasp 29-27 loss to Scotland, but the Stade Francais veteran insisted the green shoots were there for the national team's future.
"I don't understand how we managed to lose it," said a tearful Parisse who cut a sad figure in Rome's Stadio Olimpico with his son Leonardo in his arms after a game the Azzurri had dominated for an hour only to lose to a 79th-minute Greig Laidlaw penalty.
"I'm disappointed but we showed we're a great team. I saw determination and courage, despite the criticism," said the 34-year-old, who earned his 65th cap in the Six Nations, to equal the championship record of Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll.
And he warned: "But from here we can start again."
It was the 17th consecutive defeat for the Italians in the tournament -- their last win was against Scotland at Murrayfield in 2015.
For Parisse it was not only an unwanted record of a century of losses in his 134th game, but an 11th wooden spoon out of Italy's 13 overall.
Italy had led 17-12 at half time and for much of the second half until tries from Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg brought Scotland back.
Tommaso Allan pulled Italy ahead with five minutes to go, only to be denied by Laidlaw as the clock ticked.
But there were positives with Italy's three tries earning a joint-best 12 in the competition for the Azzurri, with 21-year-old Zebre full-back Matteo Minozzi touching down for an Italian record four in the tournament.
- 'It hurts' -
Allan, who played for Scotland at Under-20 level, won the man of the match award with two tries and 22 points in total.
Gloucester flanker Jake Polledri, 22, impressed on his debut, with lock Sebastian Negri and prop Simone Ferrari, both 23, also confirming their potential.
"It hurts to lose like that but today we know that we can compete with the biggest," said Allan.
Shell-shocked coach Conor O'Shea added: "I'm destroyed but we showed great potential."
The Irishman has achieved just four wins since he took over in March 2016 and apart from an historic upset of South Africa in 2016, two of those were against tier-two nations.
With Georgia sitting two places above the Azzurri in the world rankings, there has been a growing sentiment that the eastern European country deserves a shot in the Six Nations.
"We've earned the right to be here," insists O'Shea.
"I've played in Irish teams that have been beaten by Italy. We've beaten all the tier-one nations in the Six Nations Championship bar England.
"In the history of the Six Nations you've seen some great days for Italy."
Despite insisting he sees positives for the future O'Shea has said he is apprehensive about the eventual retirement of Parisse.
"I've never in my life come across a more special not just rugby player but a person, he's an amazing person.
"I'm very privileged to be involved at the tail end of his career. But he's a competitive, competitive man so we won't talk about the end until it is over.
"We're going to try and spend 18 months trying to do something special up until the World Cup and then we can talk differently about it."
Next up for the bruised Azzurri are two games in Japan in June and against Georgia at home in November.
© 2018 AFP