Brunel: Italy to become title challengers
Head coach Jacques Brunel believes Italy are still on course to be challenging for the Six Nations by 2015 after a 13-6 victory over Scotland allowed them to avoid the wooden spoon.
It meant the Frenchman's first Six Nations in charge of the Azzurri ended on a high with a victory following four defeats - three of which were comprehensive.
And yet Brunel insists that his side are still on course to reach the goal he set them when taking over in October: to be fighting for the Six Nations title before the next World Cup comes around.
"It will be difficult but I think we've got the ability to do it," said Brunel.
"International level rugby is difficult because it goes very quickly, we've only got six matches before the next Six Nations tournament so we have to progress very quickly.
"With the two test periods in June and November we have to improve quickly to have the capacity to impose ourselves even more on our opponents and be more precise so we can aim higher."
However, Brunel is still determined to blood more young players and widen his playing pool in June's southern hemisphere tests.
"We've had a look in this tournament at (Edoardo) Gori, (Tobias) Botes, (Giovanbattista) Venditti, (Tommaso) Benvenuti at centre, (Simone) Favaro, (Joshua) Furno," he said.
"In the summer we have to have an even bigger group but the first thing we need to do is manage the players physicallly and look at the those who've played a lot for the last year.
"The World Cup year is a special year, some players will have started their season on July 1 and will finish it in June and thats a very long season which we must manage."
That means certain players are likely to be given time off in the summer meaning more opportunities for the fringe players trying to break into international reckoning.
But Brunel is determined to stick with his more expansive style with its higher risks rather than reverting to the more conservative approach of predecessor Nick Mallett, who preferred to keep the ball in the pack where Italy's traditional strengths lie.
"The path towards victory is complicated, there are two ways to try to win, either by playing a tighter way and waiting more or you go for the way that we want to take," said Brunel.
"We didn't do it the whole time (against Scotland) because we don't yet have the ability to impose ourselves throughout the whole game, but we played with intensity and dominated this team like no-one else did in this tournament so I'm very proud of the way we won this game.
"At the beginning of every experience and every history there are important things, (Saturday) was very important because of the path we want to take and because of the ambition we want to have in this team.
"You can't aim to win if you're not sure you're on the right path and this win was very important in giving us this confidence."
Captain Sergio Parisse said the players never felt they would lose this game, even when Scotland pulled back to 10-6 and had an extra player due to Alessandro Zanni's sin-binning.
"We lost our way a bit in that part of the game, we made a few mistakes, we lost our certainty, we lost the ball and made some bad choices," he said.
"But we never feared we would lose because right from the beginning we dominated.
"But when it was 10-3 it wasn't over and we can't be happy to have been level 3-3 at half-time after the way we dominated the first half.
"I'm happy because we'll take the wins however they come and I'm satisfied with the way we played and the ambition we showed.
"In the second half we kept things tighter, kicked more and slowed things down but sometimes you need to do that."