Monday 25 June 2018

Belgium BEL 5

Tunisia TUN 2

REPORT

South Korea KOR 1

Mexico MEX 2

REPORT

Germany GER 2

Sweden SWE 1

REPORT

England ENG 6

Panama PAN 1

REPORT

Japan JPN 2

Senegal SEN 2

REPORT

Poland POL 0

Colombia COL 3

REPORT

Saudi Arabia SAU

Egypt EGY

Uruguay URY

Russia RUS

Spain ESP

Morocco MAR

Iran IRN

Portugal POR

Denmark DNK

France FRA

Australia AUS

Peru PER

Iceland ISL

Croatia CRO

Nigeria NGA

Argentina ARG

Mexico MEX

Sweden SWE

South Korea KOR

Germany GER

Switzerland SUI

Costa Rica CRI

Serbia SRB

Brazil BRA

Senegal SEN

Colombia COL

Japan JPN

Poland POL

Panama PAN

Tunisia TUN

England ENG

Belgium BEL

Bradley: We are trying to follow Irish blueprint

Michael Bradley continues to point the way forward for Zebre. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Michael Bradley continues to point the way forward for Zebre. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

At the end of yet another really poor Zebre performance last weekend, it was difficult to know where the PRO14 strugglers go from here.

Rooted to the foot of their Conference, this season has again been a huge disappointment, and worryingly it might still get worse before it gets any better.

The scale of the task that Michael Bradley has on his hands was laid bare at the RDS, albeit against a red-hot Leinster side, and afterwards the Cork native didn't shy away from the challenges he faces.

Four wins from 14 league games (one in the Challenge Cup) tells its own story, while their Italian rivals Benetton are seemingly going in the opposite direction, even if they are likely to find the going just as difficult in Dublin on Saturday.

Of the 24 Zebre players that travelled to the capital, nine of them were front-rowers - a staggering statistic that highlights their lack of resources.

"I think that's probably a bit of history," Bradley conceded.

"We had four or five of our back-row out through injury, we had two lads involved with club rugby so that's just where Zebre Rugby is."

Looking at the bigger picture in terms of Italian Rugby, Conor O'Shea will have been desperately disappointed with a third consecutive Six Nations wooden spoon.

For all of the positive noises that have been coming out of the country, the fact is Italy have lost 17 Six Nations games on the bounce - you have to go all the back to 2015 for when they last won a game in the tournament.

Encouragingly, however, the Azzurri's U-20s side did fare much better in their Six Nations campaign, and might well have won three games, had they managed to keep 15 players on the pitch in their narrow defeat to Ireland.

As well as that, Italy's U-18 side beat England in a Six Nations festival last week, but it will be a while yet before any of those youngsters are able to help Zebre out of their predicament.

"In the overall context of what we're trying to do in Zebre, we're reasonably satisfied with the season and we know the direction we want to go - we just need to get the recruitment right for next year and keep adding to that," Bradley continued.

"That's the process, I mean if you go back 10-11 years here (in Ireland), you have the same situation, so the blueprint for gradual improvement and success is not one week after the next, it's over a period of time.

"Ireland, going back to the start of the European Cup matches 20 years ago, we weren't winning too many matches then. You just learn to win and get better and get your recruitment right. It's the blueprint we're trying to follow.

Problems

"There are some structural problems Italy need to get over before the talent flows straight to the franchises and national team. There is a solution there, it's just a matter of executing."

Executing on the basics on the pitch would also help. Zebre's skill levels were really poor and the lack of ambition with which they played was summed up when they opted to take three points rather than kick for the corner when trailing 17-3 in the second half against Leinster.

"If you talk purely on results, I think we have a couple more wins than we had last year," Bradley, the former Ireland and Connacht boss, reasoned.

"When we have a full-strength side, we've kind of encouraged them to play a lot of rugby, which is a little bit risky but we couldn't really do it with the starting line-up (against Leinster)."

Bradley also admitted that recruitment for next season has again been a difficult process, which could point to another tough campaign ahead.

"We are a union team, we'll bring young Italian talent through and there are some very good players there, some of them have already been capped for Italy and we're quite happy with that.

"Then you're basically in the market against the likes of Leinster and Munster and you have to try and pick off a player they haven't seen or get there first.

"At the moment it's a process that we're a little bit behind the eight ball in, in the sense that we haven't got to the market quick enough for next year.

"Potentially the year after is a better year for us but we'll see. We're finished now and we're happy with what we've got coming in, it's over to the coaches to produce some performances."

Yet, for all of the aforementioned issues, Bradley is optimistic about what the future holds for both Zebre and Italian rugby as a whole.

The 55-year-old has been around the block and the impressive work that he did with Georgia in recent years will surely stand to him.

"I thought Italy were more competitive this year, especially the last two matches; they had a good chance to win both and really against Scotland they should be really disappointed they didn't win it," Bradley added.

"That's progress and Italy age-group-wise are a young side as well. Treviso are going well this year - this weekend will be an interesting match.

"A lot of the Italian players play with Treviso and they're getting the taste for victory."

What Bradley would give to have a few more of those internationals with that winning habit at his disposal.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport