Bergamasco returns from injury to save Italian hopes
Italy wing Mirco Bergamasco is to make his RBS 6 Nations return against Wales at Millennium Stadium on Saturday after head coach Jacques Brunel added the Racing Metro player to his 31-man training squad.
Bergamasco, who has won 85 caps and scored 250 points for Italy, recovered from a long shoulder injury after missing the opening rounds of this year's championship.
His return is important for Italy because Bergamasco can solve the Azzurri's big problem of the goal kicker despite his position primarily as a winger or a centre. Bergamasco has become the main kicker of the team in recent years, due to his quality and the lack of good alternatives with fly-halfs.
In fact, Italy have always struggled with kicking penalties over the years. The last great number 10 remembered by fans in Rome was the Argentina-born Diego Dominguez, who scored 983 points in 74 caps from 1991 to 2003 for Azzurri.
After him, the Azzurri tried their luck with another fly-half with Argentine origins Ramiro Pez, but his 260 points in 40 caps from 2000 to 2007 were not enough to persuade former coaches Pierre Berbizier and Nick Mallett.
Then Italy gambled with full-back Andrea Marcato from 2008, but even this solution proved unsatisfactory in the end.
And now the new coach Brunel decided to trust Tobias Botes and Kris Burton, but none of them made the kicking tee their own.
Both Botes and Burton have been criticised for their recent inaccurate kicking in the tournament. Bergamasco, who kicked the winning penalty in Italy's historic 22-21 victory against France in the 2011 tournament and then became soon the Azzurri's main kicker at the same year's World Cup, has leapt to the defence of his teammates.
“I don't think Kris and Toby have done badly, you have to look at the state of the pitch and many other things. We mustn't point the finger at the kickers we have now,” he said.
Botes had a shaky game with the conversion in the Azzurri’s third loss in Dublin as the Irish ran out 42-10 winners. His performance followed on from a nervy display with the boot against England two weeks before. For these reasons, coach Brunel said: “We don't want to put him in trouble again.”
In the first three matches of the 2012 Six Nations, Brunel always alternated Burton and Botes with penalties, symptom that there wasn't a clear idea of the roles on the pitch, nor there was a complete confidence in their real possibilities.
Now that Bergamasco is set to return, Italy can establish the previous hierarchies with the only good solution on penalties found over the recent years. But the problem of the number 10, who should be a natural fly-half able to kick through the posts with a high percentage, remains and it represents one of the worst gaps Azzurri have since almost a decade.
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