Former Ireland Under-20 and Italy out-half Ian McKinley is confident the Azzurri will soon start seeing some of the fruits of the recent work done as Andy Farrell's side prepare to take them on in the Guinness Six Nations this Saturday.

Speaking to RTÉ 2fm's Game On, ahead of the clash at Rome's Stadio Olimpico, the Dublin-born former out-half highlighted the developments made by current Ireland attack coach Mike Catt and Italy's ex-Irish head coach Conor O'Shea in giving Italian rugby a platform.

"Certainly, from an attack side of things, and that's been built on from Mike Catt, who I know is coming in for a lot of stick but you can definitely see a progression from whenever he took over to coming through now," he said.

"There are a lot of youngsters that are in there, particularly Stephen Varney and Paolo Garbisi, 19 and 20 respectively, they could potentially be a wonderful half-back combination for Italy going forward.

Mike Catt and Conor O'Shea while with Italy in 2019

"It'll take a little while to get used to international speed but in their short careers so far they have done exceptionally well.

"I know from having left Italy, there was a sort of 'no over 30-year-olds' approach, so they definitely are looking towards the future. But I've been saying for the last number of years, Italy do have fantastic players. It's just making sure the structure is right in order for those guys to flourish."

While Italy are favourites to finish bottom of the standings once again, their two toughest games on paper against France and England have come first.

Even in what were ultimately heavy defeats, McKinley has seen signs of progress for a side that actually scored more tries than Ireland in the first two rounds of action.

"Even in the couple of games that they've done in the Six Nations, when they've put pace onto the ball, they look really dangerous," he said.

"I mean that first try from Monte Ioane in Twickenham, if any international team put that together or if the All Blacks put that together, there would be huge praise for it.

"So I think it's looking to play without any fear and play with speed on the ball to put the Irish defence under pressure - and Ireland are under huge pressure."

McKinley, now a coach at AIL side Rainey Old Boys, added that while Italy have got into a "habit" of losing games, he is "convinced that with these young guys coming through, the more exposure they can get at test level, will only benefit Italy in the future."

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