A cursory glance at the statistics of Italy's recent Six Nations performances tells a tale of woe.
The Azzurri have not won a game in the competition since 2004, when they beat Scotland at Rome's Stadio Flaminio.
Last year, in their first Six Nations under the guidance of French coach Pierre Berbizier, they once again finished bottom of the standings with a single point from an 18-18 draw against Wales.
Their fruitless three-year pursuit of victory, however, does not tell the whole story.
In the two years since Berbizier replaced John Kirwan a new sense of possibility has grown up among his men, inspired by their transition to a more attacking all-round game and founded on the experience of a growing number of leading Italian players who have chosen to play their rugby abroad.
Last year's wooden spoon deflected attention from a series of lively displays in which they held second-half leads against France, England and Ireland.
They might have picked up a second point in their final match against Scotland at the Flaminio had flyhalf Chris Paterson not snatched a win for the visitors with a late penalty.
"Certainly I can't say my team have a chance to win this tournament," admitted Berbizier.
"But things have improved a lot in the past 12 months and we are certainly going in to this Six Nations with high hopes."
Berbizier singled out his side's November test performances against Australia, Argentina and Canada as evidence that they have maintained the momentum. "There were clear signs that Italy are improving," he said, singling out the 25-18 defeat to the Wallabies in Rome.
"We cut the gap on Australia to seven points and had opportunities to win the match. The previous time we played them (in Melbourne in 2005) we lost by 48 points."
The ease of Italy's 41-6 win over Canada - who they struggled to beat in the group stage of the 2003 World Cup - also suggested a narrowing of the gap between themselves and the teams in the top tier of the world game.
However, there are still some areas of weakness in the side. The halfback partnership of Ramiro Pez and Paul Griffen is sometimes hesitant and gave away possession too easily in the November tests.
Berbizier's solution has been to recall Alessandro Troncon to his squad for the opening match against France in Rome on February 3 and the trip to Twickenham to face England a week later.