Tag Archives: Jacques Brunel

Scout’s Report: Italy

Italia - Irlanda

Jacques Brunel wants Italy to be more than a strong pack. (c) Stefano Delfrate.

Italy have lost both of their opening Six Nations games, going down 30-12 at the Stade de France before a 19-15 loss to England in Stadio Olimpica. No surprises there, and Ireland should be confident in their ability to overcome Jacques Brunel’s team. Since taking over from Nick Mallet at the start of this season, Brunel has admirably underlined his intention to expand the Italian style of play.

Italy’s traditional and well-known strengths up front remain, but Brunel has stressed to his charges the need to develop a more rounded, 15-man style. Long-term, this is certainly a good thing for Italian rugby, and the Six Nations as a tournament. The losses to France and England showed exactly how much work Italy have yet to do in developing their game plan into what Brunel terms “a more fluid style, a sense of spirit”.

The Italian back-line has struggled to create genuine try-scoring chances, with their two tries so far (both against England) coming directly from opposition errors. Despite having only minimally less possession than both France and England, Italy’s attempts to put more width on the ball have actually resulted in them creating very little, and even being to their detriment.

Indeed, France seemed happy to let Italy retain possession at the breakdown, fanning out instead of competing on the deck. This allowed them to blitz aggressively on the Italian midfield, forcing them into errors. All four French tries came as a result of Italian mistakes (admittedly one from a turnover scrum). Against the English, long spells of Italian possession again came to very little. The swiftness with which they punished two English mistakes does bode well for Italy but their lack of invention is a worry for Brunel.

Italia - Irlanda

Burton (10) has been dropped for Tobias Botes, mainly for not exploiting gaps like this one! (c) Stefano Delfrate.

The decision to drop Kris Burton in favour of Tobias Botes looks like the coach’s attempt to add a more creative spark to his team. Botes has played much of his rugby at scrumhalf up until this season, but Brunel sees him as a player who can open the game up. His place-kicking after coming on against England was very poor and will have to improve if Italy are to stay close to Ireland.

As expected, the Italians remain strong up front. Martin Castrogiovanni will miss the rest of the competition, but Italy have a long production line of heavyweight props. Lorenzo Cittadini is no spring chicken at 29 and will look to ask questions of Cian Healy at scrum-time. Ireland answered Nick Mallet’s scrum-related taunts at the World Cup and will look for dominance there again tomorrow.

The Italian maul has the look of a potent attacking weapon, showing up particularly well in glimpses against France. However, Brunel’s desire for width often meant that the maul was not utilised to its full extent in Paris. It would suit Ireland if the same applied in Dublin.

So how do Ireland cut this Italian side open? Tempo and width are key. The Italians are weak at scrambling defensively. England showed the way in the 3rd minute of the match two weekends ago. From a turnover, they spread the ball wide to Strettle who carried at pace up the right-hand touchline. Swift recycling at the ruck resulted in a clean line-break for Phil Dowson. The English, utterly lacking in creativity themselves, failed to test the Italians in a similar manner for the remainder of the game.

Italia - Irlanda

Earls' pace will be important for Ireland. (c) Stefano Delfrate.

As mentioned above, the four French tries came about after Italian errors. The French are better than anyone at swift punishment of mistakes. This is not to say that Ireland should let Italy have all the possession and feed off their mistakes though. The key point is that Italy are slow to reorganise in defence when they are stretched.

Their line speed is not as aggressive as the Welsh defence which stifled Ireland three weekends ago. Ireland should look to get around them out wide through the pace of Earls and Bowe, moving them around the pitch in defence, making their big, heavy pack work hard to get back into position. From there, the likes of O’Brien and Ferris will have more opportunity for one-on-one carries and the tries will come.

Italy have actually looked pretty decent at counter-attacking off poor kicking. One of the major points taken from the Ireland vs. Wales game was the apparently aimless, deep Irish kicking. While the Italians are competent in the broken play resulting from loose kicks, they seem entirely less comfortable under a strong kick chase. Early on in the England game there were several dropped balls from the Italians under pressure from the English chase.

Conor Murray’s early box-kick against Wales which allowed Tommy Bowe to win a penalty for Ireland is the template. Murray has to make his kicks down either touchline contestable, particularly against the inexperienced Vendetti on the right wing. Even if it results in less relief in terms of territory, Ireland can reclaim these kicks in the air and immediately put Italy into exactly the type of defensive scramble which they struggle with.

An Ireland win is almost certain, but it is important that we see a clear Irish game plan tomorrow. We have 15 top-class players, some of the best in the world. But simply putting them on the pitch and hoping that they gel is not enough. Brunel has a clear vision for how he wants Italy to play. Kidney and his management team need to come up with their own vision and give these Irish players the platform to excel.


Photos courtesy:  Stefano Delfrate.

Italy Make Changes for Aviva Clash

Italy Pre-Match Huddle

Ireland welcome Italy to the Aviva on Saturday. (c) Elentari86.

Jacques Brunel has made four changes to the Italian side which went down 19-15 to England two weekends ago. Despite his poor showing off the bench against England, Tobias Botes has been selected ahead of Kris Burton at outhalf. Deciding who fills the number 10 jersey for Italy must be a hard decision, for all the wrong reasons. In the centre, Alberto Sgarbi surprisingly returns to the side in place of the hard-tackling Gonzalo Canale.

Up front, fans’ favourite Martin Castrogiovanni looks like he will miss the rest of the tournament with the rib injury sustained against England. Treviso tighthead Lorenzo Cittadini will look to fill the Leicester man’s boots. On the other side of the front-row, Cittadini’s Treviso teammate Michele Rizzo comes in for Andrea Lo Cicero. As always, it’s a big, strong Italian pack who will look to ask serious questions of Ireland at scrum and maul time.

How do you think the game will go? Will it be an easy win for Ireland to get things back on track, or do you expect it to be closer than usual? Comment below with your predictions for the game on Saturday.

Italy team to face Ireland

1. Michele Rizzo (Treviso)

2. Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso)

3. Lorenzo Cittadini (Treviso)

4. Quintin Geldenhuys (Aironi)

5. Marco Bortolami (Aironi)

6. Alessandro Zanni (Treviso)

7. Robert Barbieri (Treviso)

8. Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais, capt.)

9. Edoardo Gori (Treviso)

10. Tobias Botes (Treviso)

11. Luke McLean (Treviso)

12. Alberto Sgarbi (Treviso)

13. Tommaso Benvenuti (Treviso)

14. Giovanbattista Venditti (Aironi)

15. Andrea Masi (Aironi)


16. Tommaso D’Apice (Aironi) 17. Fabio Staibano (Aironi) 18. Antonio Pavanello (Treviso) 19. Simone Favaro (Aironi) 20. Fabio Semenzato (Treviso), 21. Kris Burton (Treviso) 22. Gonzalo Canale (Clermont).


Photo courtesy: Elentari86.

Scout’s Report: France

In what will be a regular feature on The Touchline during the Six Nations, Scout’s Report discusses what we can expect from Ireland’s next opponent. We look at France’s performance against Italy and try to pick out their strengths and weaknesses ahead of the game with Ireland on Saturday.



France were the victors in this fixture last season, 25-22 in the Aviva. (c) Liam Coughlan.

France scored four tries as they beat Italy 30-12 in Stade de France last Saturday. However, the scoreline and number of tries is misleading in terms of how the game actually played out. Italy enjoyed a large amount of possession and territory, particularly in the first half when most of the rugby was played inside the French half of the pitch. So why was it that Italy were able to keep their hands on the ball for such long periods?

One of the major reasons was the French defence. Whether it was a tactical decision, or simply the lack of aggression which Philippe Saint-André has highlighted since the game, France rarely competed at the breakdown against Italy. Instead, one-off tacklers made their hits and the rest of the team fanned out in the defensive line. In today’s international game, where we’re used to teams making every effort to steal or slow down opposition ball at ruck time, it was an odd sight.

Indeed, France seemed happy to let Italy retain possession. The Italians’ cluelessness in using it justified the French style of defence. With just one tackler on the deck, and often three or four Italians going in to seal the ruck, France usually had numbers up in defence. This allowed them to get up fast on the outside and shut down the Italian options.

So if France employ a similar defensive set up against Ireland, how can we break it down? With the likes of Rougerie and Fofana getting up fast in midfield it can often seem like the only option is kicking the ball away. Last Saturday, the weakness in France’s defence lay close to the rucks. With their line up quickly out wide, the defenders around the fringes were noticeably slower.

Conor Murray could have a key role to play around the fringes of the breakdown. (c) Ken Bohane.

Italy failed to expose this weakness. New coach Jacques Brunel has emphasised his desire for Italy to play a more expansive style of rugby. That’s great, but last Saturday it lost the game for Italy. Brunel’s side consistently sought to move the ball into wide channels, but France’s advantageous numbers in defence forced Italian errors, two of which resulted directly in French tries.

Italy’s scrumhalf Edoardo Gori gave a brief glimpse of what Italy should have been doing early in the second half. He picked quick ball from the base of a ruck and ran at the defensive pillar. Luke McLean came off his wing, ran a lovely line off Gori’s outside shoulder and the scrumhalf slipped McLean through for a clean line-break. Minutes earlier, the Italian forwards had made good yardage through strong, aggressive carries off Gori, close in to the rucks. Late in the game, replacement 9 Fabio Semenzato made plenty of headway with his snipes around the fringes, but it was too late for Italy by then.

With Italy enjoying lots of possession, where did those four French tries come from? This is where the true strength of this French team lies. The first try saw the Italian defence give Aurelien Rougerie too much space and he burst through the line and around fullback Andrea Masi. The second came from an Italian scrum on halfway, as France came up with a huge drive for a turnover. No. 8 Louis Picamoles’ good work was followed by a breathtaking individual run from Julien Malzieu (check the video at the bottom of this piece).

France’s third came after a misdirected Kris Burton pass was intercepted by Wesley Fofana, allowing Francois Trinh-Duc to chip ahead and resulting in Vincent Clerc touching down. The final score by Fofana saw him beat McLean one-on-one with his speed to get outside, then strength to fend him off. All four tries were examples of the brilliance of France’s individuals. They have players who will punish any mistake.

ST vs USAP - Louis Picamoles

Toulouse's Picamoles is one of the danger men for France. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Saturday’s win over Italy didn’t see any fantastic team work or intelligent system of attack from the French. Often, they actually struggled to put together good passages of play and go beyond 6 or 7 phases. They relied on their strong ball carriers to individually get over the gainline. Ireland’s defence will have to be far more aggressive than against Wales. For Wales’ George North, Jonathan Davies and Toby Faletau, France have their own explosive big men in Malzieu, Rougerie and Picamoles. Ireland have to get off the defensive line explosively.

Where else can France be targeted? Their restarts were appalling against Italy, both receiving and taking. The French chase was non-existant on Trinh-Duc’s drop-offs, when he actually got them on the field. Receiving drop-offs, France seemed genuinely uninterested in securing the ball. The likes of Paul O’Connell and Rob Kearney excel at retrieving restarts and must be used for this purpose.

France’s lineout stuttered against the Italians too, losing three of their own throw-ins. Saint-Andre has made four changes up front, but Ireland must go after the French here. Defensively, the French maul was very weak. Italy made some great gains there, and should have looked to it more. Again, Brunel’s game plan counted against his team. The French constantly competed in the air on Italy’s throw, often with two pods going up. This meant that Italy’s maul could get a good early rumble forward, and Ireland should look to do the same.

Obviously, we will see a more aggressive and urgent French performance on Saturday, as demanded by Saint-André. Their restarts and lineouts are something that will most likely be improved be a better attitude. If they decide to employ a similar defensive pattern, then Ireland will certainly make better use of the possession than Italy did. Defensively, Ireland cannot afford to give the French individuals space or opportunity. Kidney’s should travel to Paris knowing that this French team is beatable.


Highlights of the four tries from France’s win over Italy:


Photos courtesy:  Ken Bohane, Pierre-Selim, Liam Coughlan.