Six Nations: Italy job is 'biggest challenge' in world rugby, says Nick Mallett

By Chris JonesBBC Radio 5 live rugby reporter
Conor O'Shea
Conor O'Shea has seen his Italy team beaten 33-7 by Wales and 63-10 by Ireland in this season's Six Nations

Former Italy boss Nick Mallett says coaching the Azzurri is the "biggest challenge" in world rugby, and warned current coach Conor O'Shea faces a battle to keep his reputation intact.

Italy have suffered heavy defeats to Wales and Ireland in this Six Nations.

Mallett, 60, fears more of the same against England on Sunday, but hopes they can at least "lose with dignity".

"It's a very, very tough coaching assignment," he told BBC Radio 5 live's Rugby Union Weekly podcast.

"I have always thought the Italian coaching job is the biggest challenge any coach can take."

The South African, who led Italy from 2007 to 2011, added: "If you can come out of coaching Italy with your reputation intact, then I think you have done a fantastic job quite frankly. I hope Conor can manage that."

After shipping 96 points in their opening two matches, Mallett has urged Italy to adopt a pragmatic gameplan at Twickenham.

"To try to outrun England, trying to play rugby from your own half, will be suicidal on Sunday," added Mallett, who is working as a consultant for the official Six Nations stats supplier. external-link

"If they do lose the game, they need to try to lose it with a bit of dignity.

"To win at Twickenham for the first time, with this team, I don't think that is possible."

Wholesale changes needed?

Former Harlequins boss O'Shea, an ex-Ireland international, says he plans to change Italian rugby from top to bottom during his tenure, and Mallett agrees the structure needs to improve.

"I don't think you should be looking at the head coach as the problem, you should be looking at the structure that doesn't produce enough competitive players," he said.

"By the very nature of Italian rugby, you are not coaching a side with equal talent, in a competition that is very tough.

"It has to be about increasing the base of the pyramid. The big problem is the gap between the Italian club rugby - Rovigo, Viadana, Calvisano - and the next step up, Treviso and Zebre."

Nick Mallett
Mallett guided Italy to their first ever win against France in the 2011 Six Nations

Mallett open to Six Nations promotion & relegation

Italy's travails - coupled with Georgia's rise - have led to calls for a radical overhaul of the Six Nations, with either Italy being replaced or the introduction of a promotion and relegation system.

Mallet says on current form Italy's involvement "skews" the competition.

"I think rugby has to have a promotion and relegation nature to it, even in a competition like the Six Nations," Mallett said.

"I'm not sure it is good for world rugby to have a closed shop. But it's not only Italy, there have been times when Scotland have been as weak as Italy.

"It might not come soon, but I do think there should be a system whereby you give an incentive to a Georgia or Romania to have an opportunity to get into the competition."

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