Smith: 2021 Championship a fresh start for Italy

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Italy head coach Franco Smith believes the 2021 Guinness Six Nations represents a fresh start for his side as he mapped out his long-term vision.

Italy head coach Franco Smith believes the 2021 Guinness Six Nations represents a fresh start for his side as he mapped out his long-term vision.

Smith was interim coach at the beginning of the 2020 Championship, before being made permanent last summer, and is chasing his first win in charge.

The Covid-19 pandemic came at the worst possible moment for the South African, cutting short his first camp with the Azzurri and undoing the hard work he’d put in.

But, after a busy autumn that saw the Championship conclude and the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup, Smith expects an improvement during the 2021 Championship, starting against France.

“There’s a big expectation around winning the first game but we don’t want to win just one,” Smith said at the official 2021 Guinness Six Nations virtual launch.

“We want to win consistently, we want to be sustainable and significant in our approach. We don’t want to have a one-off where we play well, this is a new start for Italy rugby.

“In the next ten to 20 years we want to be progressing, we want to bring through more quality international athletes. It’s not a one-year process, it’s not a one game process. We want to set the standards and encourage the young guys.

“We’ve seen in the Autumn Nations Cup, when we want that win too much we make errors towards the end of the game.

“We start looking too much at what we want instead of what we need to do to get that. The process is about looking at how we can be sustainable in our actions and win.

“I’m a very competitive person, I want to win. We want this monkey off our backs, we’re really working hard to get it off.”

A quartet of uncapped players have been included in Smith’s 32-man squad with Zebre front-rowers Daniele Rimpelli and Marco Manfredi, Mogliano lock Riccardo Favretto and Benetton centre Juan Ignacio Brex all adding fresh impetus to the Italian outfit.

These additions, along with the improvements Smith bids to make, has Italy’s head coach excited at what can be achieved in this year’s Championship and beyond.

He added: “We started in January last year with a whole new approach. I had less than a month to install a new plan, different ideas and then Covid-19 came.

“We started again from zero. We have got specific physical objectives we want to maintain, we want to make that step up.

“Going into camp now everybody is a little bit more clued up on what we’re about. It’s now about how we’re going to work on it.

“I’m really excited that we’re definitely going to make progression, we’ve now got to get that consistency though.

“The competition we’re creating between players to get that jersey over their backs is slowly growing.

“The young guys, they’ve got less habits to get rid of and they’re bringing a lot of positive energy.

“We’re encouraging them to make mistakes, the main challenge is to encourage them to play and not feel the pressure.”

Tough challenges lie in wait for Italy from the off though, with last year’s top two France and England up first in the opening rounds.

But, Smith’s focus is much closer to home as he concentrates on improving his charges – with the final 20 minutes of games a particular area he has highlighted.

“Our biggest challenge is ourselves, we’ve got to be better at what we do every game,” Smith said.

“Although we have the two main challengers, the two Autumn Nations Cup finalists in France and England, at the beginning of the competition it’s a good chance to express our will and want to win in the competition.

“Against Scotland [in the Autumn Nations Cup] I felt we had control of it but the pressures of winning caught up to us in the end. We made mistakes we shouldn’t have.

“There are areas in our game that needs to step up. Our focus is to use that experience now in our favour.

“We must become a last 20-minute team. If we can play the last 20 minutes first in our game that would be great. As soon as our bench becomes a bit more aligned it will come.”