Mallet’s mission to cause upsets

Italy might not be ready to take the rugby world by storm but they are capable of giving the top nations the odd bloody nose, coach Nick Mallett has said.

Italy have the chance to spring their first major surprise under Mallett when they tackle Australia in Padua on Nov. 8 as part of a series of tests where they later entertain Argentina and the Pacific Islanders.

“It’s very difficult to turn the Italian national side into one that wins regularly, that wins three or four games on the trot,” Mallett told Reuters. “But I think we are capable of causing upsets.”

At the end of his first year in charge, the South African said his side’s targets must remain modest given the manpower at his disposal.

“It’s being realistic. We haven’t got a lot of talent. It’s always been the case and it hasn’t changed since I’ve been here,” he said.

“There’s a massive difference between the quality of the championships in England, France and the southern hemisphere compared to the Italian championship.

“Some top players go abroad, like (captain) Sergio Parisse, but not all of them are starters for their clubs.”

Nevertheless, the Azzurri’s spirited showing in last season’s Six Nations, when they beat Scotland 23-20 and made England sweat before going down 23-19, has given Mallett optimism they can take a major scalp soon.

“Consider the result last year against England,” he said. “It’s incredible that we lost by only four points to an English side that has so much talent to choose from. That was a fantastic performance.”

The 51-year-old said his job is much tougher than the challenge faced by the top national coaches.
He should know, having led the Springboks to a record run of 17 consecutive test wins in 1997-98 before quitting in 2000.

“It’s about trying to improve the players you’ve got to make them as competitive as possible,” he said.

“You’ve got to bring them from different clubs and parts of the world, put them together and hope that they’re going to be competitive on the weekend.

“That’s far more difficult than, say, the job of the English coach, who’s sitting there wondering if he’s going to pick Toby Flood or (Charlie) Hodgson or (Jonny) Wilkinson.”