Smith sees green shoots in young Italy's performance

Rome (AFP) –


Franco Smith praised "a good starting point" for his young Italy who pushed Six Nations champions England in the first half before falling to a 34-5 defeat and collecting a fifth wooden spoon in a row in Rome on Saturday.

England claimed the title for the seventh time and first since 2017 after their five-try bonus-point victory over the Italians in an empty Stadio Olimpicio.

Smith took over following Conor O'Shea's resignation in November 2019 after Italy failed to progress past the World Cup pool stage.

The former Springbok has overseen five Six Nations defeats this year with 178 points conceded and two games with no points at all against Wales and Scotland.

Italy's last win in the tournament was against Scotland in Edinburgh in February 2015, while at home the Azzurri have not won since March 2013, when they beat Ireland in Rome.

"We approached these last two matches with an almost new squad, with a lot of young people, little experience," said Smith of games against Ireland and England after the seven-month coronavirus lockdown.

"We presented a different performance in terms of attitude often putting England in difficulty.

"With a little more luck we could have scored a couple of tries in the first half.

"With such a performance we can hope for the future. I'm not happy with the result, it's clear.

"But we have seen something that gives us confidence in our work in view of the next matches."

- 'Strange, difficult' -

Unlike the 17-0 defeat to Scotland or the 42-0 rout in Wales in February, it was not one-way traffic.

The visitors stepped on the accelerator after the break with the score 10-5, after English-born Jake Polledri had scored a try for the hosts.

The Gloucester flanker, however, turned from hero to villain when he was sin binned for the start of the second-half.

England immediately took advantage of the extra man with Ben Youngs touching down for his second try of the game, with three more to follow from Jamie George, Tom Curry and Henry Slade.

"It was a very strange, very difficult Six Nations tournament," said Smith.

"At the beginning of the year, I had found a team halfway there, we needed to build a new group, a new game, a new philosophy.

"Unfortunately, this was interrupted. Physically, we see that we are behind other teams because we spent a long time in Italy.

"But we made too many technical mistakes, there was not enough continuity in our attack phases, when we have had chances, it's a shame."

For Italy, a 27th consecutive defeat in the tournament gives them a 10th wooden spoon in 21 editions.

"The result isn't nice to see," said captain Luca Bigi.

"But there was a change of direction from the Ireland game (50-17)."

"The attitude that was seen on the pitch is the one that we will take away from this tournament."