Upbeat Franco Smith reckons his youthful Italy side are taking major strides in the right direction after going down 41-18 against England at Twickenham.
Italy lost 50-10 at home to France last weekend and despite conceding six tries against the defending champions in Round 2, showed signs of improvement in London.
Smith’s visitors took a shock early lead when Monty Ioane crossed but tries from Jonny Hill, Jonny May, Jack Willis, Elliot Daly and two from Anthony Watson inflicted another defeat on Italy.
Replacement Tommaso Allan scored a second-half consolation and Smith insists his young squad are continuing to gel.
The proud South African, 48, said: “I think it’s definitely another step up for us and a step in the right direction.
“Again, our spine of our team is still 20 years old and they remain a young group. It was much better than last week [against France]. I think if we had the same physicality last week at home, maybe that result could have been completely different.
“Our game management needs attention, but obviously there are lots of other components when you coach a young side like this that need attention. I think a lot of those boxes were ticked.
“We are very proud of our approach, particularly in the second part of the match. We showed our will and I’m happy that we continued to work until the end.
“It’s negative, but also positive because these are things that we can continue to work on. I think this is a proud group of players and they work very hard.
“They’re a team, they believe in our project and believe in what we’re doing. You can tell how they sacrifice themselves to be physically stronger as well.
“Soft moments in this game made the difference, but at least we’ve made some good progress in the last two games and we will enjoy the next games at home.”
Ioane gave Eddie Jones’ hosts an early scare when he crossed after just two minutes but tries from Hill and Watson soon turned the tables at HQ.
Flying winger May extended the hosts’ lead with a stunning, acrobatic finish in the corner before Watson’s second of the game – after intercepting Paolo Garbisi’s pass – opened up daylight between the sides.
Willis and Daly then scored either side of Allan’s 65th minute intervention to ensure Italy’s miserable run went on.
The Azzurri will now gear up for a crack at Ireland and Wales as Andy Farrell and Wayne Pivac’s teams travel to Rome.
Smith hopes his players can replicate the physicality they showed in Round 2 but believes they need to improve their quality in possession to notch a Guinness Six Nations win.
He added: “Obviously for me, we need to make less mistakes when we are carrying the ball and we need to be better at managing certain situations. They are all things that we can improve.
“I was really happy – I felt we were better in attack sometimes, and we couldn’t finish it, especially with the intercept try coming when we were on the front foot. That was a real setback for us.
“If you’re asking me what we need to improve, it’s something else other than the physicality. We need to improve our techniques and our tactics – physically, we’re getting there.”