L’ora più buia è quella prima dell’alba

italyrugbyThis has, historically, been a typical day in Gli Azzurri‘s dressing room – lounging around in their mutande pouting, wondering who forgot to bring l’Olio d’Oliva Extra Virgine, about as ready to rendere il massimo as a Viagra-less Silvio Berlusconi.

Yet Gli Azzurri wrapped up their Six Nations with two wins, their equal-best ever effort. And they pushed England hard at their hoodoo ground Twickers. The question is, why?

Look no further.

burtonIt can be no quirk of fate that his absence coincided with their improvement. Apart from forever taking Gli Azzurri from well behind the advantage line to somewhere out in the car park, he’s Australian.

Well, he’s a Queenslander. There’s a subtle difference. And there’s an even more subtle difference in that I marginally defame your average Queenslander because he’s actually from Cairns.

Cairns_location_map_in_QueenslandCairns is proof positive of my long-held theory – mentioned in this august company before – that the closer to the equator you live, the closer your head is to the sun, hence your brain is roasted at an early age. Certain southern American states only bear out my theory. For that matter, conversely, the closer you live to Antarctica, the more likely your brain to turn to gelato. Witness Tasmanians. Or, in the case of the Arctic, Scots.

In fact, Cairns-ites whose brains are yet to be entirely roasted have been known to jump to their deaths from great heights to escape the place. Signs are even erected to protect the roasted-brain locals from falling would-be escapees.

1261470530-Cairns-Australia-Oceania-CairnsBut, tempting as it is to stereotype North Queenslanders for 500 words – and you’d understand the temptation if you met one – there are other reasons for Gli Azzurri‘s relative improvement. For one thing, Sergio Parisse clearly had a look at himself in the proverbial clichéd mirror and cringed at what he saw.

sergio-parisse-calendarioWhy hang around like a knob – albeit barely hidden behind a footy – waiting to be sculpted when Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519? Pulling up his socks off-field – after actually putting some on – has resulted in more mature on-field performances. Sergio had often seemed to want to do it all on his own. These days he’s working just as hard but now also with his head down, grafting, backing up and supporting teammates.

Coach Jacques Brunel also brought a novel approach with him from Perpignan. The Azzurri backs were no longer to be passengers. Which amounted, in his view, to instilling the confidence to take chances. Hardly, historically, an Azzurri tactic. Opting to start the tournament with Luciano Orquera at 10 signalled his intent.

-Luciano-Orquera-007Orquera defines flaky. Always has. Give him time and space – as France did massively, and England and Ireland to a lesser extent – and he can create something out of nothing. Smother him as Scotland did and he can turn into a liability. It’s the risk you take. But, currently, he’s Gli Azzurri‘s only ready-made attacking 10 option. Thankfully, after Brunel lost his nerve and resorted to the Cairns-ite against Wales, with the predictable result, he rediscovered his nerve for England and the Cairns-ite was banished from the 23 hopefully forever.

Let Jacques Brunel imprint this message on his frontal lobe.

townsvilleThe bottom line is that the backs gave it a go more than they have in my memory. Often too lateral, predictable and lacking in guile – oh for a strike runner on an angle! – but, after some consistently outstanding Azzurri defence, with herculean back-row and forwards efforts securing possession, the backs did contrive to threaten. Not, historically, an Azzurri habit.

Brunel has said he’s happy with the progress over the tournament. He should be. But he’s not content. He wants more consistency and that, I suspect, has a lot to do with concentration from the moment the last notes of the anthem fade.

And, over the coming seasons, he knows he will need to replace some of his stars. Parisse and Zanni, the real quality in the team, are in their late 20s. Masi is 32. Castro 31. As is Orquera.

The signs are promising. Francesco Minto is developing nicely as a lock and can play backrow. Simone Favaro is another developing backrower. 22-year-old Tommaso Benvenuti is a fine 13 of the future.

Nick Mallett drove the establishment of Academy catchment areas all over Italy rather than focusing only in the north. Incumbents Edoardo Gori and Giovanbattista Venditti are Academy products, Gli Azzurri U-20 skipper Angelo Esposito, a winger and FB, has been with the national squad for experience and 19 year-old out-half Edoardo Padovani won’t be far behind him.

No one, of course, will ever replace Sergio Parisse.

Sergio_ParisseTst. Bastard can’t help himself.

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776 Responses to L’ora più buia è quella prima dell’alba

  1. Droptheclaw says:

    ROD should trademark that head strapping. All his best performances have come in it. I wonder is he forages in it.

  2. tichtheid says:

    Crash, colostomy’s personality on the pitch is more likely to cause offence than his physical presence.

  3. Droptheclaw says:

    ROD? Ach, mein arsch.

  4. yesiamclutz says:

    Gloucester just replaced 1-2-3, four minutes into the second half…. what the hell is that about?

  5. ClydeMillerWynant says:

    BB – as I’m sure you agree the whole business is a farce anyway given where in Scotland people are interested in rugby.

  6. crashtopuss says:

    @ticht

    True enough. Though it’s been a while since he’s brewed up on the pitch and gone into purple-faced-wind-up-merchant. Wonder if that’ll change tonight?

  7. ClydeMillerWynant says:

    I reckon ROG might have one of his implosions as he sees his last season slipping away. Of course that might be me looking seven years into the future as opposed to half an hour.

  8. beadleclawuk says:

    thanks be to refitman. I’m in…

  9. LarryM says:

    Rog is playing OK but his kicking distance has receded dramatically. It’s like watching a club vets’ game.

  10. sunbeamtim says:

    Almost certainly Claw , as I Came down Little Switzerland from Headley , then crossed the 24 and went up past the Stepping Stones pub , past the station towards Ranmore . Did you here the satisfying burble of a 1920s V Twin while waiting for the train ? Glad you enjoy my home territory . There are some cracking bluebell woods thru there , I did a lot of walking around in the area as a kid , before the 87 hurricane took out a lot of the big trees .

  11. Borderboy says:

    Great try Glasgow!!!

  12. crashtopuss says:

    And people of a Scottish persuasion were worried Jackson’s kicking would cost them the game…

  13. Borderboy says:

    Is it me or is Matawalu the guy who has really made Glasgow go this year? OK< i know that not everything come off, but he seems to be the real heart of the team and when he doesn't have a good game like last week, Glasgow don't do so well.

    Also, are Munster getting a bit tired now? They haven't threatened anything like as much this half.

  14. PlanetoftheChimps says:

    Munster were really up for this in the first 30 minute

    Glasgow really turned it up in the last 10, though. Jackson having a good game

    Did my eyes deceive me, Embra have won 2 in a row? Well, knock me down with a feather

  15. Borderboy says:

    Crash – would you perhaps be thinking of a certain fez-bedecked Scottish mog?

  16. PlanetoftheChimps says:

    Crash, he has good days & bad days

    He’s having a good one today

  17. Borderboy says:

    Al Kellock – kicking monster! (Not).

  18. PlanetoftheChimps says:

    And that’s why 2nd rows shouldn’t kick (apart from John Eales)

  19. yesiamclutz says:

    Quinns lost, damn good game mind.

    Munster in danger of a thrashing here perhaps? This is based on limited watching thus far, watching it exclusively from here on.

  20. tichtheid says:

    Moray Low just wiped his nose on Dougie Hall’s shirt

  21. tichtheid says:

    Mark Bennett for the bonus point!

  22. Droptheclaw says:

    SBT, definitely mate! Lovely end of the world.

  23. Borderboy says:

    Another great try from Glasgow – I can see what Chek (or was it Ticht?) meant when they talked about this guy. Hopefully he’ll be in the Scotland team for a long time.

  24. tichtheid says:

    I think it was both of us Borderboy

  25. yesiamclutz says:

    Scratch the in danger bit, this is a thrashing now, pure and simple.

  26. PlanetoftheChimps says:

    Lovely by Hogg there…

  27. Borderboy says:

    Try from Hoggy boy!!! This boy is brilliant! Shirley nailed on for Lions!

  28. PlanetoftheChimps says:

    That Laulala chap has done some beaut offloads

  29. Borderboy says:

    Good try from Munster – this is probably a stupid question, but if Munster get a 4th try, do they also get a try bonus point?

  30. PlanetoftheChimps says:

    BB, yes

  31. PlanetoftheChimps says:

    Jeebers, 3 interception tries?

  32. PlanetoftheChimps says:

    Good win for Glasgow. Munster turned up to play & were a bit unlucky to be behind at HT, but Glasgow were excellent in the 2nd

  33. killerline says:

    Porce-Cat approves of Glasgow.

  34. ClydeMillerWynant says:

    Well done Glasgow – look very strong.

  35. Borderboy says:

    That is an immense win – 50 points against Munster? How often does that happen?

  36. ClydeMillerWynant says:

    BB – not sure I’ve ever seen it. Ospreys were close in the semi-final last year, but I don’t think quite made it. Margin might have been bigger though. Otherwise you could be going back a long way unless Leinster have done them serious damage at some point in the last few years.

  37. 9 tries? I sure it is because of the weather.

  38. ClydeMillerWynant says:

    Too cold a night for them not to run around.

  39. ClydeMillerWynant says:

    Could also have been the perfect playing surface.

  40. Yes. Also, it’s because the Scots learn to rugby play in the wet it improves their ball handling and when it’s dry it becomes very easy for them. Or they’re good players. Whatever explanation makes you feel better works.

  41. Borderboy says:

    I don’t want to say that it’s the end for this Munster team, but they will need some rebuilding in the summer? I hope for the Munsterites on here that they have young guys coming through, ‘cos they can’t rely on the old guard for ever. It looked as though, especially in the second half, the speed of Glasgow was getting too much for them. I don’t know what the stats were but Munster weren’t in the Glasgow 22 anything like as much in the 2nd half as they were in the first.

  42. ClydeMillerWynant says:

    Munster’s passing may also have played a role.

  43. Borderboy says:

    Sorry, forgot to say thanks to PotC and FD for answering my question. If both Ospreys and Scarlets win (as I think they will) then I think the pressure will be on whoever loses between Ulster & Leinster – particularly Ulster. If they get on a downward spiral it may be hard for them to snap out of it. I hope not – they’ve been great this year.

  44. ClydeMillerWynant says:

    BB – they are still arguably the fifth best side in the league. That aside they don’t look to be consistently competitive with the top four teams and were well and truly thumped in the second half tonight. Glasgow did seem to hit a pretty high level though.

  45. crashtopuss says:

    I was busy making tea and scones to numb the pain of the last 30 minutes of that game. Didn’t work.

    Well done Glasgow, top of the table for a reason.

    This match sums up Munster’s season; good and ferocious in fits and starts and then lots of of bafflement where stuff just goes wrong.

    I said before the season that with a team in serious rebuilding mode with a new coach, a new style of play and many new and young players that it would take a while for it all to gel and that I forsaw 6th place in the Rabo and us (just about) getting out of the group in the HC and that I’d be happy enough with that considering the circumstances. Happy enough as long as there was marked improvement the season after.

    And for those thinking of starting drinking it; the thing they never tell you about green tea is that it’s even worse than a few pints for making you pee.

  46. tichtheid says:

    I hope losing in Dublin last week doesn’t come back to haunt the Weedgies. They were the better side but Leinster know how to win come what may. If Glasgow do manage to get a top two finish, and it’s in their own hands, I can see them going the whole way.

  47. tichtheid says:

    This is a bit weird, half ten on a Friday and I’ve only just opened my first beer.

  48. cherryandwhite says:

    Glos v Quins was a great game. Shoddy defence from Glos throught the first half though – Quins were waltzing through from first phase ball pretty much every time. Going to be very, very tight for 4th.

  49. Monnem says:

    I thought it was telling that Glasgow were still going for points at the end. They must see points difference as being decisive in the shake-up for 1st and 2nd place.

    Either that, or they just really fancied putting 50 on Munster for the hell of it…

  50. You probably can’t be as good as Munster were for as long as they were without making other sides want to be 50 points on you when they get the chance.

  51. Monnem says:

    Fair point.

    I believe Glasgow had their highest attendance of the season for this match, and were hammered in Thomond earlier in the season, so it all points towards a desire for maximising the win.

  52. tichtheid says:

    Glasgow have had an unusual season, they didn’t really get going until after Christmas. They have serious depth at prop, but most of them were injured during the first half of the season. Maitland was a late comer, Strauss took a while to get used to the Rabo, DTH is prone to injury, Cusiter is still out, Jackson’s form wasn’t good…

    They have turned a corner though, and it’s down to that old chestnut, the team spirit. They really are a close bunch who play for each other, and it’s obvious the pleasure they get from playing as a team

  53. kobw says:

    Just me and Lorenzo
    Ridin’ round in a Benzo

    Poor effort from Munters (my Euro team)

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