Franco Smith hailed Paolo Garbisi’s debut display and stressed Italy are still a work in progress after their 50-17 Guinness Six Nations defeat to Ireland.
The Azzurri got off to a dream start when 20-year-old Garbisi knocked over an early penalty on his senior bow but Ireland responded quickly with the opening try from CJ Stander.
A Hugo Keenan brace put Ireland 24-3 ahead at the break before further scores from Will Connors, Johnny Sexton, Bundee Aki and Dave Heffernan secured the bonus-point win.
But Italy continued to battle away until the end and were rewarded for their effort with tries for Edoardo Padovani and Garbisi, who raced over the whitewash with the clock in the red.
And while Smith was frustrated by result, the Italy head coach took plenty of encouragement from the way his young side – and Garbisi – acquitted themselves.
“We are very disappointed with this result,” said Smith post-match. “We knew from the beginning that the Irish teams had the opportunity to play a few more games.
“Physically we are still behind: we have worked very hard, even with deductibles. It means we have to focus on this side and do more.
“Ireland played very well in defence, improving from the start of the year. It is a team that after the stoppage period has collected important results in terms of play and have put us under pressure.”
On Garbisi, Smith added: “He played a good match, with personality. He is a player who played with his head and managed to score a good try in the final against experienced players.
“I’m happy for him. In the next six weeks we need to make team improvements that will surely bring advantages to him too.”
Ireland’s victory means they go into the final round of the Championship in pole position to win the title while Italy welcome England to Rome with Eddie Jones’ side also in contention.
And Italy captain Luca Bigi said his side’s lack of experience compared to their Irish counterparts ultimately proved the difference, especially in the most important periods of the game.
“We did a good performance in some situations but we definitely need to improve,” said Bigi.
“We have fewer games in our legs, compared to Ireland, of international rugby. This is by no means an excuse: they deserved the victory.
“They put pressure on us at the crucial points. We will have to perform better in the future on this point and try to finalise more. I didn’t go out with physical problems.
“In matches of this level the contribution of the bench is important, without forgetting that we have five other international matches ahead of us and, inevitably, there will be some more substitutions.”