'Have that!' Laughing Italy international asks Wales how Six Nations failure tastes

Former Italy international Jake Polledri says he laughed at Wales being called out by Georgia as he relishes Warren Gatland's side having their Six Nations credentials questioned.

The 28-year-old, who announced his retirement from rugby last month due to injury, watched on as Italy enjoyed their finest ever Six Nations campaign this year, beating Scotland and Wales and drawing with France to avoid the Wooden Spoon for the first time since 2015. Wales, on the other hand, finished rock bottom as they suffered a first tournament whitewash since 2003.

Italy have for years seen their future in the championship placed under serious scrutiny amid calls for the tournament to introduce promotion and relegation, with Tier 2 sides like Georgia and Portugal knocking on the door. However, it is now Wales who have been called out by the Georgians, who challenged Gatland's side to an unofficial play-off after winning the Rugby Europe title for the seventh straight year.

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While such a fixture will not take place this year, there remains hope that the two sides will do battle next summer. For now, though, Polledri is enjoying seeing a team other than Italy questioned and - despite once being eligible to play for Wales - admits it was satisfying to see Georgia throw down the gauntlet to Gatland's men.

"I was laughing the other day seeing Georgia call out Wales," he told the Telegraph. "I just sit there and think: ‘How does that taste, we had that for 10 years.’ Italy used to get it all the time.

"I just sit back and think: ‘Have that.’ It’s not nice, and like rubbing salt in the wound. Wales in general, not just the national team, are not in a good spot.

"Everyone in Cardiff was great, saying Italy were the better team and deserved to win, very forthcoming," he added. "But now, the shoe is on the other foot. It’s not nice to be constantly called out for being in the Six Nations.”

However, while Italian Test rugby is in a good place, Polledri will play no further part in it having announced in March that he was hanging up his boots at the age of 28. The former Gloucester man had been beset by injuries since suffering a devastating knee injury against Scotland in the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup, which saw him rupture all three cruciate ligaments in his knee, tear his hamstring off the bone, tear his calf and fracture his leg.

He also suffered ‘drop foot’ - a paralysis of the foot due to nerve damage - as a result of the catastrophic injury, before making his return almost two years later for Zebre. However, he would make only one appearance for the side before suffering a foot injury, which he failed to recover from.

His injury hell came as he was coping with the sudden death of his 24-year-old younger brother, Sam, who suffered a cardiac arrest during a night out in Bristol in February 2022. Now a coach at Cinderford RFC in Gloucestershire, Polledri feels fortunate to still be "alive and kicking" after going through "awful, dark times" and is now looking forward to the next stage of his rugby journey.

“At least I’m still here," he said. "Bless my brother. That’s why I am so positive. It is not the end of the world, there are plenty of people out there with worse conditions [than me]. Still alive and kicking, which is the main thing.

"Psychology-wise, yes, it’s been awful, s***, dark times especially losing my brother. Yet retirement is not the end of the world. There are plenty of things to look forward to. I still love rugby and still have a lot to give. [Coaching] keeps my toe in the water, as such, after it was so harshly dragged out.”