Azzurri need to come down to earth
Italy's time surfing a wave of euphoria since their stunning Six Nations victory over France is about to come to an end as Murrayfield looms on the horizon.
Italy's time surfing a wave of euphoria since their stunning Six Nations victory over France is about to come to an end as Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby, looms on the horizon.
Italy's 23-18 victory over Grand Slam hopefuls France at Rome's Olympic Stadium was one earned with a combination of grit, conviction - and a few French handling errors that proved costly in the end.
If starting the tournament with a win is good for any Six Nations team, it was doubly so for Italy, who beat Scotland in their final match last year to take fifth place and condemn their opponents to the unwanted wooden spoon.
For Italian rugby federation (FIR) president Alfredo Gavazzi, Sunday's win was historic.
"We've made a lot of progress this past year. Now, we're playing at the same level [as the other teams] and with our heads held high," Gavazzi said Monday.
"This was a huge result and one that we have to look to replicate in future games. I would say it was the perfect game."
A largely unimpressive France took a 15-13 half-time lead, but earlier errors, including Frederic Michalak's missed conversion and a fluffed Wesley Fofana-Fulgence Ouedraogo attack, came back to haunt them in the second half.
France also lost out when Maxime Machenaud's promising run to the tryline was kept in check 10 metres out, and moments later an Italy charge led to the hosts's second try when prop Martin Castrogiovanni took Luis Orquera's pass.
The conversion gave Italy a 20-18 lead and minutes later the stadium erupted when Australian-born Kris Burton hit a decisive drop goal through the posts from 25 metres.
While Philippe Saint-Andre hit out at the "missed opportunities", the France coach gave credit where it was due.
"You have to say hats off to Italy," said Saint-Andre. "They're [now] ninth in the [world] rankings, they're improving all the time and they simply deserved to win."
FIR chief Gavazzi is hoping to use the spin-off from Italy's second win over France in the past three editions - they beat France 22-21 at Flaminio Stadium in March 2011 - for further promotion of the game in a country where 'calcio' (football) is king.
"This is a family sport, and we need to do everything we can to exploit our Six Nations success to help guarantee the future of rugby in Italy. We already have plans to work more with the schools," he said.
There is no guessing the effect a third consecutive Six Nations win would have in Italy.
But although Scotland may be there for the taking, following a 38-18 defeat to England which could lead to several key absences through injury, Italy coach Jacques Brunel has called for calm.
"Everyone says Scotland are not a great team at the moment but they are a hard team to play against, especially at Murrayfield, and last year they gave a lot of teams problems," he warned.
Giovanbattista Venditti, who plays at right wing, says Italy will miss their "16th man". And while he claims the Azzurri's win against France was no fluke, he knows Scotland is a challenge not to take lightly.
"The home public for us is like a 16th man, it gives us that little bit more motivation," Venditti said.
"Winning (against France) was a huge satisfaction, but we put the work in and now it's bearing fruit. Brunel is always telling us we should play more offensively and take to the field with a winner's mindset.
"Those aren't just words. We feel we're on the right road, but haven't reached our destination yet."
Looking ahead to next week, Venditti added: "Today (Monday) we already started working towards the Scotland game, but we know it will be just as hard as the game against France."