It has been discussed for a long time now whether Italy are actually fit to play in the Six Nations.
They have failed to really progress at any sort of rate since their inclusion in 2000. The odd win here and there may not be enough.
Italy being there is crucial and there are valid reasons for the Azzurri remaining in the competition.
3. Growth of the game
World Rugby always talk about growing the game and giving more nations more regular international competition. Taking Italy out of the Six Nations would be a radical and fairly unnecessary step backwards.
If anything is to change with the number of teams, Georgia should be added, although that suggestion has been mooted before. But with the already saturated calendar that change seems unlikely for now.
2. Recent improvement of the Italian franchises
Recently we have seen some serious upturn in the fortunes of Zebre and Benetton. They both have recently taken scalps against some of the most well-stocked and strongest teams in the Pro14 and that was minus their Italian internationals.
This may well signal the start of a new dawn for Italian rugby as a whole. For years both the Italian based sides were rooted to the bottom of the Pro12, as it was then. Now though, they look like they are becoming far more of a challenge than they have previously been.
1. Promising emerging generation
The under-20s are becoming a force to be reckoned with and gave what is a very strong Ireland team a scare, eventually just losing 37-34 in Donnybrook, Dublin.
If the young Italians, coached by former Italy great Alessandro Troncon, keep progressing and give the rest of the teams a hard time they could well be challengers in a few years’ time. It would not be such a stretch to see Italy’s under-20s beat Scotland and Wales this year.
After all the debate there are reasons for Italy to stay. For now we may have to put up with them being the whipping boys, but there may be a power shift coming and Italy could soon pose a serious threat.