Berbizier turns sense of injustice into rallying cry for the legions of Rome

The Italy coach wants fairness from referees, spirit from his players and the backing of a whole nation as the world champions arrive in town today. David Llewellyn reports
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The Italy coach Pierre Berbizier was furious for days after last week's 26-16 loss to Ireland at Lansdowne Road, so much so that he seemed in danger of taking his eye off today's home match with England.

In Dublin the referee, Dave Pearson of England, in charge of his first international, awarded two Irish tries, believing he was perfectly placed to judge both cases. Replays - available to the television match official but not called on - suggested that Jerry Flannery may have dropped the ball for the first score and that Tommy Bowe had not touched down for the second.

Three days after the match, Berbizier said: "What happened against Ireland was not right. I accept it when the referee blows his whistle for Italian mistakes, but when the opponents commit the same mistakes and the referee does not blow his whistle for them that is not fair. I simply want the same things for my team as the opponents. At the moment it seems there is one rule for Italy and another for everyone else."

The Italians have a tough enough job on the field without developing a sense of paranoia over their treatment at the hands of officialdom, but Berbizier is not the only senior figure to voice his frustration.

Alessandro Moscardi, the former Azzurri captain who is now an ambassador for the Six Nations sponsors, the Royal Bank of Scotland, echoed Berbizier. "It was the same when I was playing," said the 45-times capped hooker.

"Whenever there were borderline decisions we never got the benefit of the doubt. Referees always seemed to pay special attention to us. I believe Italy have improved greatly and all we ask, all we have ever asked, is that the Italy team plays to the same rules as everyone else."

Berbizier's predecessor John Kirwan, like Berbizier a fluent Italian speaker, offered a more nuanced view.

"I think it comes down to discipline," said the former New Zealand wing, who guided Italy to 10 wins in 32 matches. "The penalty count was the problem for me when I took over in April 2004. And when a team infringes a lot then the referee starts to watch them more closely.

"So I invited Italy's international referee, Giulio De Santis, to attend our training sessions and we took the penalty count down from an average of 23 per match to around 10, which was equal to the count of our opponents in the Six Nations. Until then, when we infringed the roll of the dice would go against us, but with De Santis on board we really turned the corner.

"I also realised that we had to remain squeaky clean at the breakdown and the tackle situations for at least the first 15 minutes, because the referee is concentrating on that area. In my experience, if the opposition stayed squeaky clean for half an hour they got away with pretty well anything after that because by then the ref had decided that particular area was not going to be a problem.

"It must be remembered that [referees] have a lot to think about. I think I am right when I say that they have about 18 instantaneous decisions to make when they are running up to a breakdown. And I have to say that in my time in charge referees' decisions never cost me a game."

He added:" I think it was ridiculous that a referee should be put in charge of a Six Nations match when it is his first one. But that is an IRB planning problem."

Perhaps realising that, Berbizier settled, at length, to discussing this afternoon's match. "We speak for the last time about the game against Ireland," said the former France coach. "All our attention should be focused on the game at the Stadio Flaminio against England.

"It will be the first home match of a squad capable of playing with the same spirit that excited the 4,000 Italians at Lansdowne Road. We should not consider the England match to be a dangerous one, but instead see it as a major occasion, a pleasure for the fans, who will have to be the 16th man on the field for the duration of the match. We are going to play against a great team, but we must keep going like we did in Dublin."