Rugby coach Brunel laments lack of unity on cusp of Italy exit

Milan (AFP) - Italy coach Jacques Brunel said Wednesday a lack of unity and direction in Italian rugby was partially to blame as he prepared to end his mitigated five-year spell in charge of the Azzurri.

Brunel remains Italy's coach for the next "two to three months", after which he will take over as forwards coach at French Top 14 side Bordeaux-Begles.

But days after seeing Italy limp to their 11th Six Nations wooden spoon, and second under his charge, the 62-year-old former Perpignan coach was left feeling frustrated at what might have been.

Enthusiastic when he took over from South African Nick Mallett in 2011, Brunel was soon faced with stark realities and admits he ends his spell largely dissatisfied with Italy's progress.

"I certainly can't give myself a 10 (out of 10) because the results just weren't up to expectations," Brunel told media in Milan on Monday.

He arrived in 2011 in an era of "big changes" and experienced the difficulties of unearthing the players equipped with enough talent and actual top level experience to compete with the giants of the European game.

Amazingly, because some were not playing regularly enough with their clubs, Brunel was even recently forced to call up players from Italy's second division.

"Aironi (franchise) went under, they had to create another one very quickly, which demands time and energy, there was the creation of the Pro 12 (championship), a new qualification system that recently came into place... all these things were relatively new when I took over," Brunel told AFP.

"Also, it's fairly common knowledge that relations between the federation and Benetton (Treviso) haven't always been smooth ... so it was a little difficult to create unity even in technical terms.

"Basically, I was the overseer of all these potential problems. With all the implications, it meant I wasn't fully able to create the synergy between the franchises and the Italy team to the level I wanted."

After 50 games Brunel steered Italy to only 11 wins -- an unimpressive percentage of 22 which edges Mallett's 21.4 % but is lower than both Pierre Barbizier (40 % from 30 games) and John Kirwan (31.3 % from 32 games).

In his time at the helm, Brunel saw Italy concede massive losses while producing rare moments of magic.

At his first Six Nations tournament in 2012, Italy avoided the wooden spoon thanks to a 13-6 win over Scotland and in the November tests they came within four points of an historic first victory over Australia in Florence.

A year later Italy looked to be going in the right direction when they tied their best ever finish of fourth thanks to wins over France and Ireland, the latter a historic result for the Azzurri which means England remain the only Six Nations side yet to suffer defeat to Italy.

But a 10th wooden spoon awaited Italy at the end of the 2014 Six Nations when they lost all five games and they finished a summer tour of Fiji, Samoa and Japan with losses to all three.

A narrow win over Scotland in 2015 did little to raise spirits after heavy defeats to France and Wales and, at last autumn's World Cup, Italy failed to reach their targets after defeats to Ireland and France.

A close defeat (23-21) to France in Paris was the highlight of a disastrous 2016 Six Nations campaign that finished with a 67-14 defeat to the Welsh in Cardiff and led to calls for Italy to be thrown out of the tournament.

Even FIR president Alfredo Gavazzi, who on Wednesday refused to confirm if they will appoint Irish coach Conor O'Shea, admits there's plenty of room for improvement.

"We have only two franchises in the Pro 12, and ideally we need at least three to have a larger player pool," said Gavazzi.

Zebre and (Benetto) Treviso are Italy's biggest clubs sides, but they currently sit second-from-bottom and bottom of the Celtic League.

Gavazzi added: "There's a big difference between the level of players in our top sides and even the average sides in the English Premiership and Top 14 (France).

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