Click here for photos from the Italian management’s press conference at the Castleknock Hotel and Country Club in Dublin on Friday.
Pictured above: Italy coach Pierre Berbizier – the Frenchman is no stranger to Irish shores having played at scrum half for his native country at Lansdowne Road in 1981, 1983, 1989 and 1991. He captained Le Bleus to a 26-21 victory in Dublin in ’89.
The 47-year-old took over from New Zealander John Kirwan as Italian coach in April of last year – today will be his first 6 Nations game in charge. Berbizier said at Friday’s press conference in Dublin: “For me, it is just great to be able to return to top class rugby here because to go to a game here in Dublin, there’s always a great atmosphere – for the players on the field and the supporters in the stands.
“Its the same in all the six nations, but particularly in Ireland – there’s the battle on the field, but off it, there’s the chance to forge friendships and have a few drinks together. That’s the message I would send to any Italian supporters who are travelling over for the game – enjoy it.
“I’ve played at Lansdowne Road many times – had some unforgettable moments – I’m happy that the younger players in my team will be able to play at the stadium too before it’s redeveloped. It will be special for them to say they’ve played at the old Lansdowne.”
The press listen in as Pierre Berbizier fields questions at the Castleknock Hotel and Country Club. Italy captain Marco Bortolami said recently of the Frenchman: “”He is trying to get us to play a more team-orientated game, with a focus on attack and working together as a unit, as 15 players – whereas John (Kirwan) was more interested in working on individual skills and building things up that way.”
Berbizier once said: “If you cannot take a punch, you should play table tennis.”
Pierre Berbizier takes part in a television interview with TV3 presenter Dave Kelly. The Frenchman has brought a freshness to the Italians’ play, according to team manager Carlo Checcinato, and they could spring a surprise today.
Former Azzurri favourite Checcinato said: “We’ve been training hard in preparation for this game and we are going to fight Ireland all the way – that’s for sure.
“Ireland are a strong side, but we are strong too. It is the first game of the tournament, so anything can happen, and although they are favourites for the game, we’re determined to make an impact.”
Pierre Berbizier, who coached France to victory in the 1993 Five Nations Championship, said: “Ireland have a strong squad. The majority of their players play together with Leinster and Munster, and that will certainly stand to them. They have a very good home record in the 6 Nations also.”
Asked about his favourites for the title, he added: “England and France are the first teams that spring to mind. You’d have to pay attention at all times though because there is always the potential for a surprise – Wales proved that in 2005. I see Ireland doing well this year. Scotland are rebuilding well. We’ll have to wait and see, every 6 Nations seems to vary from the next.”
**All photos by Lorraine O’Sullivan of Inpho Photography**