Italy head to Twickenham to take on England with questions surrounding their future as part of the Six Nations. However, the Azzurri still have the support to continue to attend this tournament while building a future
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 12/02/21 3:08 pm
In Hell, Dante wrote about the nine Circles of Hell. It might not be so far-fetched to say there is also a tenth, where one is destined to spend eternity as Italy’s defensive coach.
Marius Goosen has played a role with the Azzurri for a somewhat shorter period of five years, although you wonder if there are times when South Africa questions if he’s been punished for something.
Take last Saturday’s Six Nations opener against France, for example. In preparation, Goosen spoke of how they showed their decline in the final quarter of matches during the remainder of last year’s Six Nations Cup and Autumn Cup as a key area for improvement.
“We analyzed all the matches played in the fall and we saw that the greatest difficulty came for us to coincide with the last 20 minutes of the match,” Goosen said ahead of the match.
“On the one hand we clearly don’t like it, but on the other hand it allows us to come to this meeting with clear ideas for understanding how to improve the situation.”
So, 47 years old, head coach Franco Smith and the rest of the Italian staff had to watch anxiously at the Stadio Olimpico as France stormed a 21-point lead at half-time, with tackles eliminated and the visitors ended up running out of 5-10 winners.
It was a result that saw Italy lose 28 in a row at Six Nations and few gave them much of a chance to avoid making it 29 against England at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon.
Such results have seen the voices calling for Georgia, who opened the second tier of European Rugby Championship with a 16-7 win at home to Russia last Saturday, be given the chance to step up to the Six Nations to grow even harder.
But one man who quickly retained Italy’s place in the tournament was Smith’s predecessor and a man who will be on the British side this weekend, Conor O’Shea.
The Irish cite how the Azzurri have embraced a more daring and attacking mindset compared to Georgia’s scrum-oriented, forward-dominated approach, as well as warning of the damage that would be done to rugby in Italy if they were removed from the Six Nations.
“The easy thing is to just question what the Italians are doing, but when you look at their style of play, they are way better than Georgia,” O’Shea, now RFU’s director of rugby performance, told Daily mail.
I’ve seen a few things on social media. In the end, it will motivate us to work harder and want to go out and win more.
Scrum-Italian half Stephen Varney
“The worst thing you can do right now is a contract, and some decisions now can make that happen, which you shouldn’t. We should all want teams like Georgia and Romania to thrive, but don’t kill other countries while we’re doing it.”
One advantage that Italian rugby has over ambitious Tier Two countries like Georgia is that they have two clubs in Benetton and Zebre playing in PRO14, meaning more players regularly gain regular exposure to top tier domestic rugby competition and European clubs. .
Former Northampton Saints and England U20 winger Jamie Elliott, now in his third season playing for Parma-based Zebre, there is no doubt that the current generation of Italian players is not burdened by a loss of national team reputation either.
“After the international fall they feel like they’ve come more as a team and have more gel, so we’ll see what Six Nations have,” said Elliott.
“England have faced them many times, but this Italian team is unpredictable, and they have nothing to lose. They will definitely fire their shots.”
That view is echoed by Stephen Varney, the 19-year-old Scrum midfielder who hails from Wales but qualified for Italy through his mother and is one of the young players Smith sees as the team’s future.
It may be six years since the immortal ladle player last won a Six Nations game, but the Azzurri Under-20s have beaten Scotland and Wales in recent seasons.
And while Varney admits he doesn’t expect to make a move to Tes level so quickly, Gloucester’s men insist there are players starting to arrive who can turn Italy into a more competitive team as they build towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
England have faced them many times, but this Italian team is unpredictable, and they have nothing to lose. They will definitely come out to shoot.
Zebre winger Jamie Elliott
“Personally, I don’t think it will come this fast, but Franco is looking into the next World Cup so it’s good to give us some exposure in this Six Nations and in the next three years,” said Varney.
“It is clear playing in the U20 squad that there are many good players and stars for the future.
“I’ve seen some things on social media. In the end, it will motivate us to work harder and want to go out and win more.”
Eddie Jones continued to blame himself for England’s 11-6 loss to Scotland in their opener Six Nations, saying he did not provide his players with the correct information for the match, but said all their focus was getting back on winning paths against Italy.
Last Updated: 02/09/21 6:35 pm
England are looking inward for the missing intensity that Eddie Jones says was responsible for the catastrophic start to their Guinness Six Nations title defense.
Scotland performed convincingly as winners 11-6 of Saturday’s opener to record their first win at Twickenham since 1983, leaving Owen Farrell’s side to begin the rebuilding process against Italy.
Jones has overseen a forensic review of the Calcutta Cup submission and is aiming to return to his best when the Azzurri visit London in the second half.
“We just felt that we were holding back a little bit and we were not our usual excited selves,” said head coach Jones.
“We really made sure that we focus on ourselves this week and play the kind of rugby we want to play, which is up front and keeping opponents behind.
“We are just disappointed that we did not improve from the French game (in the Autumn Nations Cup). We are always looking for improvement. As I said, I am responsible for the performance.
“Sometimes you don’t give the right information to the players and we don’t play the way we want. We move on to the Italian game now.”
Among the areas of external scrutiny is the performance of the fly-half Farrel, with his place on the team now in question for the first time since making his debut in 2012.
Jones’s initial post-match response was to say England didn’t have possession to launch a meaningful attack, but footage showed Saracen ignoring the overlap in the second half, opting instead to kick in.
In defending his captain, Jones said: “There are five million situations in the game and we don’t train five million situations.
“Once we get on the pitch the players make all the decisions and it always happens, but the responsibility to prepare them for the game rests with the head of the coach and so I didn’t give them the right information.”
England have added props Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola to their 28-man squad at the expense of Harry Williams and Tom West.
Sinckler missed the Calcutta Cup disaster due to serving a ban for swearing at the referee, while Vunipola has been out since November with an Achilles injury. Vunipola has fully recovered and will face Italy.
Squad Update | Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola have joined the 28-man squad with Harry Williams and Tom West returning to their clubs. #ENGvITA#GuinnessSixNations
Two sharks, believed to be Great Whites, have been spotted in Auckland’s Hauraki Bay this morning. Photo / Getty Images
Further shark reports on a second beach east of Auckland came after swimmers were warned to stay out of the water after two large sharks – one the size of a small boat – were spotted near shore this morning.
And, for the second day running, sharks were spotted off Muriwai Beach on Auckland’s west coast, triggering a warning for beachgoers.
This morning the Auckland Council warned swimmers and recreational boats on the East Coast to exercise caution after confirmation of the location.
Now another sighting further south on Maraetai Beach has emerged from a couple who saw a large fin cut through the water around 8 a.m.
At least two sharks, believed to be great white sharks, have been seen just 600m from shore.
Someone who was out in the water and saw the couple said they were at least 5m long, measuring slightly less than his specialty.
“We were in a boat that was 26 feet (8 m) long and next to one of them,” said Boatie, who asked not to be identified.
“They were huge. We went back in. We didn’t want to be out there, to be honest.”
He said he informed the Coastguard about the harm they caused.
“We are more worried about the kids on the beach and the people on the jet skis,” he said.
The last suspected sighting of a shark occurred this morning when a couple on the coastal trail of the Maraetai Beachlands saw a large fin zooming through the water.
“While returning between 8-8.30am we saw a large bluefin moving very fast in the waters of the Maraetai towards the Omana Esplanade,” said Deepali Kohli.
He said there was a possibility that the threat was much wider than the East Coast.
For a second day, swimmers and surfers at Muriwai Beach have been warned of a new threat after Auckland’s popular west coast was cleared due to yesterday’s shark sightings.
A warning was posted on the Auckland Council’s Safeswim website this morning, advising against swimming at Muriwai Beach.
It said sharks had been spotted and had to be careful.
She is well known among her peers for her brave, environmental pioneers for the past 50 years, but only now is Valerie Taylor’s legacy being celebrated on screen.
Renowned for providing ‘real sharks’ to Hollywood with her husband Ron, the extraordinary life of deep sea divers is explored through the stunning archives in the new Australian documentary Playing With Sharks, which was screened in competition at last week’s Sundance Film Festival.
The festival itself – the first major film event on the calendar – had to keep up with other major events by presenting an online-only edition, due to the ongoing pandemic.
And while the film star and director Sally Aitken (David Stratton’s Australian Cinema Story) may not be able to visit the snowy peaks of Park City, Utah for the world premiere, enjoy them instead of their homes in Sydney, the rumors that have enjoyed the film remain.
Playing with Sharks is filled with dazzling surprises. Perhaps the greatest revelation of all: how tame are most of the shark species.
At one point, Taylor can be seen training a shark to feed, like a dog, with his commands and calls. It doesn’t matter that he will later put on a chainmail suit to test the true strength of a shark bite – or face a flock of white-tipped sharks, his fists lifted, determined to swim with them in the sea.
To call Valerie Taylor fearless would be an understatement.
Moments like these appear throughout Aitken’s live film – and thanks to Taylor, also a photographer, painter and writer, and her late husband, cinematographer Ron, these scenes are completely captured on film.
The couple – ‘Jacques Cousteaus’ from Asia-Pacific, if you will (albeit without the common French wallet) – recorded thousands of hours of underwater footage.
You may have seen their picture on the National Geographic page.
You’ve almost certainly seen footage of their live sharks in Spielberg’s Jaws.
From hunters to protectors
Realizing a documentary’s dream, Aitken spent months exploring the visual and written material from Taylor’s archives, while also interviewing friends and colleagues, as well as the woman herself.
“He’s had a very big life, a varied life, a lot of experiences,” said Aitken of the hands-on subject, now 85, who is still diving out there in the Pacific.
“Sorting out all of that is quite challenging. And then, you add up the thousands of hours of footage – about 5,000 in all – and a handwritten diary from every year of her life since the 1960s. That’s pretty incredible.
Valerie Taylor and her husband Ron became world-renowned conservationists almost by accident.
They first met when the pair were competing in a spear fishing contest around Sydney. With the abundant oceans, spear fishing is popular. But then, in the late 50s, the number of men outnumbered women 100 to one in such competitions.
Taylor is not bothered by the lack of representation of women (he won), or by much else (he challenged doctors with tackling polio at age 12).
The Taylors soon got married and were busy running a successful business selling deep sea footage to TV networks at home and abroad.
Their sudden jump from avid hunter to a fierce protector of the ocean following the gruesome extermination of the Great Whites, which Ron saw firsthand (Valerie no: women forbidden to ride boats).
Right now, said Aitken, those early days of spear fishing were still painful.
“She was really in pain when she saw the image of herself as a young woman stabbing the nose of a gray nose shark,” Aitken said of her subject, which happily opens up about her life (Aitken producer Bettina Dalton, who worked with Taylor on a series. in 2000).
But Taylor still hoped the tape would be cut (apparently not).
“Valerie has so much candor. Nothing is off-limits. She has a very honest relationship with her life,” said Aitken.
“She has a purpose. She knows it’s bigger than her. Valerie really wants to be there for the sharks, for the environment, even when she’s in front of the lens, she always carries a message or a certain point of view. It’s never about her.”
This sincere attitude partly explains why Valerie Taylor is, in Aitken’s sense, too often neglected.
Taylor has always been described by male-dominated media in the 60s and 70s as a blonde bombshell – ‘Bond Girl of the Ocean’ – in a bright red wetsuit and long blonde hair. But rarely, if ever, was he asked for comment.
Aitken admits that it’s normal – he’s a kind of “hidden figure,” he says – but it’s Taylor who often takes big risks underwater.
Now, with his new film, shot by National Geographic for an undisclosed price following its virtual premiere, Aitken feels the balance has finally been reset.
“Valerie has touched people in ways we may never have known,” she said of Taylor’s legacy, which includes the creation of the infamous shark protection scheme (and special marine park) for these much-misunderstood creatures that have survived for millions of years, only for now facing a bleak future.
Aitken added that Taylor touched people’s lives “not only in carrying the environmental message but also personally: people had approached him and Ron personally and he always took the time to reciprocate.”
“One shark scientist I met in South Australia – she is from Belgium – I mentioned that I had made this film and she said: ‘I know Valerie!’ She was 12 years old, doing a school project on sharks, and she faxed to Valerie, and now she leads this ecological research group. Madison Stewart, a supporter of the Byron Bay young shark.
It seems fitting that, in one of the most poignant sequences in the film, Taylor is seen defiantly stepping into a pink wetsuit, which catches the attention of the bull shark – his intentions – despite the obvious and obvious aches and pains.
The dives took place in Fiji, where she and her late husband last traveled together (Ron died in 2012), and the crew knew him well.
“I’ll dive in a wheelchair,” he said matter-of-factly as the boat headed out to sea. And there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t.
Playing With Sharks will hit theaters later this year.