Nick Mallett may be leaving his Italian job after Rugby World Cup 2011, but he will nonetheless be an interested spectator as the Azzurri’s next generation play in the IRB Junior World Championship 2011 on home soil next month.
Mallett, the former Springbok coach who guided Italy to arguably their finest hour with victory over France in this year’s Six Nations, knows the importance of such a competition to a player’s development.
“To play at home is a huge chance for the Italian young guns to test themselves at the highest youth level and to try to convince our franchise teams Aironi and Treviso to offer them a deal,” explained Mallett.
“It is a key point for Italian rugby growth that Italian players coming from the junior national side are involved in the Celtic League or, at least, within the most competitive clubs in the Eccellenza championship.”
Great potential for Italy
Italy, who return to the Championship as winners of the sister event – the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy – in 2010, beat Scotland in the RBS Under 20 Six Nations earlier this year to finish fifth.
Mallett acknowledges being drawn alongside three-time defending champions New Zealand, Argentina and Wales in Pool A is “tough”, but believes the Azzurrini will benefit from their preparation at the Under 20 Academy in Tirrenia.
“It is a tough pool for the Azzurrini, but they’ve been together on a very regular basis during the season thanks to our Academy based in Tirrenia, and there are no reasons for them not to be at their very best during the Junior World Championship. They’ve worked together a lot since July 2010 and this will help them.
“Over the last four years, the Tirrenia U20 Academy has boosted the top Italian Under 20 players’ growth and I’m sure there is still great potential for further growth. Coming back to the 2011 JWC pool phase, I think that beating Argentina would be a great achievement and set a good platform for the final phase.”
Southern hemisphere to dominate?
Mallett has certainly not been afraid to hand young players their chances during his reign as Italy coach, with wing Tommaso Benvenuti and scrum half Edoardo Gori the most recent to graduate from the Under 20s fold to the Test arena.
The Azzurri coach, who steps up his RWC 2011 preparations with the senior squad in July, is confident the Junior World Championship will provide some exciting rugby in the cities of Padova, Rovigo and Treviso.
“The three cities that will host the Junior World Championship are really rugby-enthusiasts and it will be great for the guys to play there,” admitted Mallett.
“I think southern hemisphere teams have the potential to dominate the competition. The ranking shouldn’t be different from the senior one. New Zealand has won the last three editions and they’ve been under the same head coach over those three years which is definitely a great advantage.
“But I’ve heard Australia will name a very skilful team and my suggestion is to take into account the Baby Boks as well, a very talented side for real. France, England and Wales will be the northern hemisphere's most competitive teams.”