Morning Chronicle - Six Nations has 'lot to gain' from Italy despite losing streak: McKinley

London -


Six Nations has 'lot to gain' from Italy despite losing streak: McKinley
Six Nations has 'lot to gain' from Italy despite losing streak: McKinley

Six Nations has 'lot to gain' from Italy despite losing streak: McKinley

The Six Nations championship has a "lot to gain" from having Italy involved, their former fly-half Ian McKinley told AFP, despite Sunday's match with Ireland in Dublin likely to be another "difficult weekend".

Text size:

The Italians go into the match on a run of 34 successive Six Nations defeats and against an Ireland side who have won nine of their last 10 Tests, including an impressive victory over New Zealand last November.

Italy started this championship with a 37-10 defeat in France and then a dire 33-0 loss a week later at home to England.

McKinley, 32, is well versed in the ups and downs of Italian rugby having had a renaissance in his career there after losing the sight in his left eye when playing in Ireland.

Armed with special goggles, the former Leinster and Ireland Under-20 international went on to be capped nine times by Italy for whom he was eligible under residency rules.

"Calls for promotion and relegation are valid from a rugby supporters' point of view," he told AFP by phone from his home in Northern Ireland.

"Sitting through the England game was not pretty for a rugby fan.

"However, Georgia (who are seen as potential replacements) drew with Portugal recently.

"Unfortunately Italy suffer from being in this sort of mid-category that when you come up against Canada and USA you are a bit better than them.

"But then move up a category and there is such a difference between the home nations and France to where Italy are at unfortunately."

McKinley says Italy still have time to show they deserve to stay in the Six Nations.

"Contractually they are locked in, I do not know for how many years, so things won't change in the immediate," he said.

"Their progress might revolve around what can World Rugby do to make them more competitive.

"Selfishly I think there is a lot to gain from having Italy in the Six Nations because I lived there and I know what goes on there.

"However, if the results do not get better that topic becomes a lot harder a conversation to have."

- 'Very level-headed' -

McKinley jokes that people might think him "loopy" but there "are really good players" coming through although some do "slip through the net."

"There is light out there. The under age stuff is going well such as the Under-18s," he said.

"In the past few years they have beaten Ireland, England and Scotland consistently.

"The Under 20s beating England (6-0 earlier this month) is a mammoth thing. Imagine if Georgia or Portugal did that they would be euphoric."

McKinley, though, says the problem comes when they have to step up to the senior side.

"They are talented players but the jump from the Under 20s to Test level there is a massive difference, the players are more physical.

"There has never been a second Benetton or Zebre team to fill the gap for the talent coming through.

"Contrast that to Leinster age grade. Unless you are ridiculously talented you do not go straight into the Leinster first team.

"Instead there are bridges, club rugby and then Leinster's second team so you are prepped for the first team.

"In Italy there is a gap and no bridge hence why a 19-year-old will find the leap into senior rugby more tricky."

McKinley believes Italy are in good hands under coach Kieran Crowley having played for him at Benetton.

"Kieran is very level-headed like a lot of New Zealander coaches," he added.

"Win, lose, draw, he sees it in the same light and in a calm manner, his demeanour does not change.

"He has not been given an easy couple of rounds and injuries make it tough for this weekend."