Mallett hails half-back duo
Italy coach Nick Mallett has put his faith in Andrea Masi and Pietro Travagli to continue to improve when England arrive in Rome.
By Tony Curtis
Last Updated: 07/02/08 5:29pm
Italy coach Nick Mallett has put his faith in Andrea Masi and Pietro Travagli to continue to improve when England arrive in Rome on Sunday.
Mallett gambled on his selection to tack on Ireland by handing centre Masi the No.10 jersey and recalling Travagli after a lengthy exile from the national side.
The move almost paid off as Italy pushed Ireland all the way in their 16-11 defeat - and although Mallett wasn't entirely pleased with the team's display, he was impressed with the way his half-back pairing rose to the challenge.
He said: "In the match against Ireland, I would give Travagli a six while Masi deserves a seven or an eight.
"I'm very happy with Masi's game: good in defence, in passing, in the physical play and in the anticipation.
"Obviously, we didn't give him the responsibility of kicking - instead entrusting Travagli and [David] Bortolussi - but not because he doesn't know how to kick well, only to let him get more confidence in his new role game by game.
"I don't intend to give him too much responsibility immediately, but I know that he can kick very well.
"When the team have developed more certainty, he will also be able to play with his feet when the moment calls for it.
"Travagli played in a simple way, he did good things but he also made a few wrong decisions especially when kicking."
On paper, a five-point defeat to Ireland a Croke Park seems a good result for the Azzurri, however Mallett is not a man who is happy by brave defeats.
Having lead South Africa to a record 17-match winning run, Mallett expects the best - and he has warned his squad they must improve if they want to keep their places.
"The important thing is that all these players can improve and the whole squad has to improve," added Mallett.
"The game in Dublin wasn't good if you look at our play, even though we were always close in points.
"I hope the players have understood that we were lucky not to let in three tries in the first 20 minutes.
"Any other team would have put 40 points past us.
"Ireland missed many opportunities and didn't realise where we were weak, which was lucky for us.
"I am sure that no team will make the same mistakes."