Friday 6 December 2019

New TV deal boosts Italians but same old problems remain

Treviso's Sam Christie tackles Ospreys centre Andrew Bishop
Treviso's Sam Christie tackles Ospreys centre Andrew Bishop
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Treviso's struggles are well documented at the best of times but during the international breaks, Italian teams more so than others really struggle.

With the Pro12's bottom side still searching for their first win of the season, they probably couldn't have picked worse opponents to arrive at the Stadio Monigo on Sunday afternoon (3.30).

In terms of squad depth, Treviso and Leinster are at the complete opposite ends of the scale, and although the Italians do tend to throw up at least one shock result a season, with Matt O'Connor set to welcome several key players back from injury, the odds are stacked against Umberto Casellato's side ending that wretched run.

A 12-game losing streak looks grim from whatever angle you analyse it, but Treviso are remaining united. Casellato only joined the club during the summer while one of their most successful players ever, Marius Goosen (now backs coach), has been eager to point to the club's current transitional period.

The majority of the new faces who have come into the squad including out-halves Joe Carlisle and Sam Christie, don't speak fluent Italian, which brings its own problems, while the average age of their backline is just 23.

Nevertheless, Italian rugby's domestic struggles are evident from a quick glance at the table with Treviso rooted to the bottom and Zebre are just one place ahead of them thanks to their win over Ulster earlier this season.

However, the news this week that the Italian Rugby Federation have finalised a television deal with Nuvolari which will allow Azzurri fans access to free-to-air Pro12 action for the remainder of the season will come as a boost.

In a country that is dominated by soccer, rugby fans have regularly pointed to the lack of coverage of their sport, but it is hoped that this latest move will increase the playing numbers and eventually the quality of the players that they are producing.

It sounds promising in theory but the reality is that it isn't much good to Casellato right now as he faces the daunting prospect of trying to halt a Leinster side who prior to the three-week break had racked up four consecutive victories.

Leinster have won nine of the sides' 10 previous meetings, with Treviso claiming a famous 29-13 home victory in 2010.

Confident

O'Connor has spoken about wanting his players to take their chance with the Ireland stars away but when you consider that the returning Jordi Murphy, Shane Jennings, Dave Kearney and Fergus McFadden are all full internationals themselves, Leinster will arrive in Treviso quietly confident of adding to their opponents' woes.

"We can't fit them all in but bodies are starting to return, which is very pleasing coming into these league games and going into Europe," O'Connor said earlier in the week.

"We had a week off and then we did some conditioning to try and put the bodies back together and get some physical gains in.

"We got a couple of rugby sessions in but thankfully we have a long week to get ready for Treviso."

Sounds ominous for the Italians.

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