Mauro Bergamasco has claimed that his Twickenham debacle is well and truly behind him as the Six Nations minnows prepare for their encounter with England at the Stadio Flaminio today. Bergamasco, a flanker, suffered a humiliating experience in last season's Six Nations opener when Nick Mallett, the Italy coach, picked him to play at scrum-half. The move was calamitous and Bergamasco was at fault for all three of England's first-half tries that rendered the second half, by which time he had been replaced, little more than a procession.
But the Stade Francais back-row forward insists he has not let that performance affect him. "What happened last year was just a professional blip," he said. "It's not something that's going to condition everything else a player has done in his career. "Those who know rugby know what I'm about and one match cannot erase a player's professionalism or ability, so I'm not worried about it. Obviously playing in my best position allows me to give my best to the team, but whatever position I'm asked to play in, I'll do my best, although it can always happen that you make mistakes or don't play your best."
With the exception of last year's horror show, Italy's recent performances against the 2003 World Champions suggests they may be edging closer to recording a first win against England, narrowly losing out last time at home 23-19. England have won all of the 15 previous clashes but the Azzurri came as close as ever the last time they met in Rome, losing 23-19. Italy lost their opening match last week in Dublin 29-11 to Ireland - their 14th reverse in their last 15 matches - but Bergamasco said his side are still growing as a team.
"To evolve you have to play against better teams and for Italy it's not difficult in world rugby to find better teams," he said. History suggests England can go into the game with confidence and Martin Johnson, their coach, believes his team should come away from Rome with the points. His side will be looking to build on last weekend's 30-17 defeat of Wales at Twickenham as they bid to win a first Six Nations title for the first time since 2003.
"We should know that if we perform we can beat any team in the competition and we can also lose if we don't perform," he said. "Attitude when we take the field away from home is a key factor. Do we expect to win? Of course that's what we want to do, but there is a process to go through. "There is potentially an issue after a win of euphoria and getting carried away with yourself, but the mark of a good side is backing up a good performance and victory."
Johnson warned his players that England will only start growing into a force to be reckoned with if they start stringing performances together. * With agencies