Brunel wants more from Italy
Italian coach Jacques Brunel insisted his side have plenty to do if they are to become a true force to be reckoned with.
Italian coach Jacques Brunel insisted his side have plenty to do if they are to become a true force to be reckoned with despite finishing their Six Nations campaign on a high with an historic win over Ireland.
Ireland took the road to Rome hoping to finish a torrid campaign with a win at a sun-drenched Olympic Stadium, but Declan Kidney's injury-hit squad succumbed 22-15 with Italy scoring the only try.
Italy had shown the same signs of marked improvement in a determined first outing last month when they secured a deserved 23-18 win at home to France.
Subsequent losses to England, Scotland and Wales tempered that joy and threatened to dump the Azzurri among the wooden spoon candidates.
However a packed-out crowd of around 70,000 witnessed a determined Italy punish an ill-disciplined Ireland side which has now failed to score a try in four Six Nations outings.
Italy finished fourth in the table, one place ahead of Ireland and two ahead of France, having won twice in the tournament for only the second time - the last being in 2007.
While it rubber-stamped the progress Italy had shown since producing strong performances against the All Blacks and Australia in the November Tests, Brunel said they are far from the finished product.
"I always said I'd wait until the Ireland game to judge our performance, but today's result leaves me with two totally different ideas," said Brunel.
"On the one hand, there's a consistency since our matches against the All Blacks and through to France, England and Ireland.
"We played well against all those teams, but we were beaten in Scotland (34-10) and had a poor match against Wales (26-9).
"We still don't have that capacity to be always consistent at this level. But our character, and the performances we produced against all these teams shows that we're on the right road."
Although Ireland arrived missing several key players, including influential fly-half Jonny Sexton, ruled out with a foot ligament injury, Italy took their chance to make history.
Paddy Jackson put the first of his 15 kicked points on the board with a sixth-minute penalty, but Italy went in for half-time 9-6 to the good thanks to the boot of Luciano Orquera (two penalties) and Gonzalo Garcia (one).
Ireland had also lost winger Keith Earls and Luke Marshall to injuries with iconic centre Brian O'Driscoll, whose retirement announcement is expected to be forthcoming, sin-binned for a nasty stamping incident.
Italy had Ireland on the ropes early after the restart and were finally rewarded with the only try of the game when Gio Venditti muscled in to squeeze the ball over, although it required a lengthy video call.
Orquera converted to give Italy a 16-6 lead and although Ireland came fighting back to trail by only one point (16-15) with 10 minutes to play, two further penalties from the boot of Orquera secured the win.
"Huge credit is due to them. It's a big, big win," said Kidney.
"Obviously the measure of disappointment for us is mirrored by the joys which I'm sure they've experienced."
While captain Jamie Heaslip looked ahead to the future for what he termed a "young" Ireland team - which may now have to do without O'Driscoll - he also lamented their failure to produce try-scoring rugby against France, Scotland, England and now Italy.
"In all three games that we've lost, it's been a score or two that's separated us, that's the frustrating thing," said Heaslip.
"We've made too many errors, given free shots at goal, turned over too much easy ball at set piece or just not converted out own opportunities."
Kidney's future had already been questioned before this reverse.
And while calls for a non-renewal of his contract may now grow louder, the 53-year-old former mathematics teacher - who led Ireland to the Grand Slam in his first year as coach in 2009 - said he, like O'Driscoll, would need time to reflect.