New Italy head coach Gonzalo Quesada has wasted no time in getting to work to ensure his team will be in the best shape possible when they open their Guinness Six Nations campaign against England in Rome on February 3. Quesada’s contract doesn’t begin until January 1, but since leaving Stade Francais at the end of the French Top 14 season in July, he has gone straight into preparing for his first tournament as a national team head coach having already filled multiple notebooks with his observations about Italy and the players now in his charge. The Argentine took in all of Italy’s matches at the Rugby World Cup and has rewatched their Six Nations clashes. Since moving to Italy and settling down in Milan, he has regularly travelled to Treviso and Parma to watch Benetton and Zebre’s matches and meet their Italy players.
It is not his first involvement in the tournament as a coach. The Buenos Aires native was France’s kicking coach from 2008 to 2011, and it hasn’t taken long for the buzz of the competition to fire his prolific work ethic. “It is super exciting,” Quesada said. “I was part of the Six Nations during my four years with France and I enjoyed that so much, so being back in the Six Nations is super exciting. “I have concerns we only have a short time before then. We have one and a half days together before the first week. It is three days, but on one day I have to go to the official presentation and the other we will finish at lunchtime because the players have to leave to catch their flights to return to France or England. “The first thing is how am I going to do it? How will I prepare and organise the team? That is why I am keeping the same staff to give us some continuity, and I will go slowly with the ideas I have and adapt to the things that were done.” Guinness Six Nations Preparations Quesada’s work ethic will come as little surprise when looking back at his time as Argentina kicker. His style may have pushed the limits of time allowed, but there was no doubt he had everything in place before swinging his powerful right foot. It allowed him to finish Rugby World Cup 1999 as leading points scorer with 102 points. It helped Los Pumas to the quarter-finals for the first time, a highlight of a test career that garnered 486 points from 38 caps. His work ethic also meant he was a success in France. Quesada credits France for making him a professional, first as a player, and then as a coach. He won the 2015 Top 14 title with Stade Francais and then guided them to the 2017 Challenge Cup with a 25-17 win over Gloucester Rugby at BT Murrayfield.
Italy great Sergio Parisse was Stade Francais captain for those triumphs and the number 8 was in no doubt what Quesada should do when the offer from Italy came through. “I called Sergio after the Italy Rugby Federation (FIR) had contacted me,” Quesada said. “We talked about it, and he was very complimentary and very happy to know I was coming.” Italy finished bottom in the 2023 Six Nations and won one match in the four years under first Franco Smith, and then Keiran Crowley, the memorable victory away to Wales in 2022. Strength of the Team At the World Cup victories over Namibia and Uruguay were followed by heavy losses to New Zealand and France, which meant the team headed home on a down note. With minimal time to prepare for a Six Nations that also features a home match against Scotland and away trips to France, Ireland and Wales, Quesada has already contacted Marco Bortolami and Fabio Roselli, head coaches of Benetton and Zebre, to ensure that the national team and franchises are all working together. He is also open to continuing the FIR’s Project Exiles work, which drafts in players not born in Italy, but with family ties. It is a programme that has ensured that Ange Capuozzo, Paolo Odogwu, Stephen Varney and Jake Polledri have committed to the Azzurri at international level. “I think the strength of Italy is how they play as a team,” Quesada said. “The other Six Nations teams have more individuals who can make something happen. Italy’s strength is how they work as a team, how they create pressure as a team. “When I played against Italy, they were always hard to play against, and good in the scrum, line-out and defence. The players like an attacking identity, but I think we must build the foundations first. Defence must be right, and we must work on our set-piece and kick receipts, though I’ve liked the innovation in how they are exiting. “They have improved a lot over the last two years, and I think this is a great generation of players, very passionate about playing together. We must decide what type of team we want to be, what our values are and how we go forward together. Then we can talk about what type of rugby we play. The process is very important.” Living La Dolce Vita When not focusing on the Six Nations, Quesada and his wife are settling into life in Milan, a choice that means he is well-placed to watch Benetton and Zebre. His Italian studies are going well judging by his official unveiling in October where he conversed comfortably in what will become his fourth language, and he has already been in touch with fellow Argentine and Inter Milan legend Javier Zanetti, so expect to see him at San Siro when the Nerazzurri play. As a boy he and his friends would fervently follow the Five Nations, and thoughts of hearing Flower or Scotland and Land Of My Fathers live stir similar emotions. Quesada will bring freshness to the team, and despite his excitement, he is not setting targets for Italy, especially with France, Ireland, and Scotland aiming to make up for disappointment at the World Cup, and England and Wales trying to build on impressive campaigns. “It is difficult to set goals in public,” Quesada said. “We can only concentrate on the processes that we can control. I must work to continue to improve this team. If we continue this process of improving these foundations and building on our strengths, we can close on our rivals. “What Italy has produced at the Stadio Olimpico is huge. What the biggest teams have is their identity, and the values, and vision of the team. “If we can create something that can reflect Italians on the pitch, fans will identify with us. We will be close to doing something special and that is all I think about when I think about the tournament.”