Italy’s place in the Six Nations is becoming increasingly precarious, according to former Ireland international Shane Byrne.
Yesterday’s 48-10 loss to Ireland in Rome was a 30th successive defeat in the competition, stretching back to a 2015 victory over Scotland.
Deemed unlucky to lose their second game to England by a 23-point margin, yesterday’s showing lacked any real sign of progress and indeed they could easily have conceded another 20 points to Andy Farrell’s charges.
Four of South Africa’s top club side are due to play in an expanded Pro14 competition this year and while the Springboks recently signed a 10-year deal to continue in the Rugby Championship, a move north for the world champions could come down the line.
Argentina, too, may be on the lookout for a new home with the travel restrictions caused by Covid-19 laying the foundations of a new international rugby landscape.
“It’s very frustrating to look at,” said Byrne on RTÉ’S Sunday Sport.
“Even in the last couple of seasons when they had a couple of narrow defeats and their defence was heroic and very good; it might just take one bad error, which would cost them a try.
“But this year it’s almost the opposite. Their attack seems to be far better. Against France, against England they made clean line breaks several times. Their defence seems to have taken a step back.
“We always thought nothing could happen cause ‘the Italians can’t be abandoned after putting so much into it’ by bringing up Georgia or someone like that, restructuring the Six Nations into a two-tier tournament.
“But now with the thought of an Argentina or a South Africa stepping into the Six Nations, you have to think that their position in the Six Nations is becoming pretty precarious if this continues.”
The former Leinster and Saracens hooker also felt that Ireland, following defeat to Wales and France, were much improved said they need to play in a similar fashion against Scotland and England to make real progress.
“We played with a bit of ‘get up and go’, we box-kicked far less,” he said.
“It was good to see the offload game look like it’s been reintroduced.
“Let that be the standard, let that be where we are now, don’t let it be that we just play like that against the Italian defence, which wouldn’t be as intense as the other defences.
“Let it be that we are going to try to chase for these offloads, get the arm free, keep the ball off the ground and not just be a ruck-orientated side.
“Johnny Sexton had one of his slickest games I’ve seen in quite a while, [Garry] Ringrose as well. Tadhg Beirne, the back row were fantastic.
“There were real good signs. Obviously, every game against Italy, when you come out with a scoreline like that, there has to be a caveat.
“But the thing we wanted to see was the manner of the win, the way we went about it and we ticked so many boxes in that respect.”
Follow Scotland v Ireland (kick-off 3pm, Sunday 14 March) via our live blog on RTE.ie and the RTÉ News app or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1’s Sunday Sport. Highlights on Against the Head on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.