Cannavaro, Materazzi, Del Piero, Gattuso, Bergamasco: spot the odd one out. Well, the first four are all World Cup winners, national heroes and footballers. The fifth is none of these things, but is arguably as good at what he does as any of them. Italian rugby, long the preserve of just a couple of the country’s regions, and long played by Argentines masquerading as Italians, may be about to hit the Italian national conscious as if it were a Welsh fly-half.
There are a few reasons for this. This year, Italy won its first non-home game in the Six Nations and emerged as victors for two games in a row for the first time. Over 1.25 million people—a 10 percent share of the total television audience—watched Italy’s thrilling defeat of Wales. And what is more, Italy is good at rugby, and that has never been true before. Yes, the team was fortunate in Scotland’s gift of 21 points in the opening six minutes, and Wales is right to feel slightly aggrieved at the manner of its loss, but international rugby matches are never won with luck alone.
In Italian sport, 2007 will be remembered as the year that Inter Milan swept all before them, and the year in which Juventus, Fiorentina, Milan and others were hampered by allegations of corruption and docked points. Perhaps, when the Italian team wins its first rugby World Cup in 20 years’ time, 2007 will also be known as the year when Italian rugby finally came of age. As a rugby nation, Italy has always played with drive and passion, as well as being physically tough. This season the team members added to this mix genuine skill and the ability to close out games in a manner more associated with their round-ball playing counterparts. In Mauro Bergamasco, the team has a flanker who could grace almost any side in the world. Alexander Troncon brings years of international experience. No longer do any players seem out of their depth at international level. With Italian football under the spotlight for a number of unsavoury reasons, and with a rugby World Cup in the offing later this year, the time may have come for rugby, with its triple virtues of skill, strength and, most importantly, fair play, to make significant inroads in this country.
However, the Italian players are not champions yet. Whilst they won two games this year, they lost three as well. And they lost to France and Ireland by large margins. But, gone are the days when a victory against Italy was a given, even for the more powerful rugby-playing nations. A black tie reception for the players in the Piazza Del Popolo in Rome after the Ireland game should tell its own story of how great their progression has been.
The nature of the regional league means that most weeks there will be a game against a local rival, a team from Pisa or Siena, perhaps, and whilst the standard is not as high as you might expect in France or England, there are certainly no easy games. Florence has two principal teams, both represented in the regional Serie C of the national league. The rivalry between Firenze Rugby, who currently top the table, and CUS Firenze, who are further down but won the recent meeting between the two sides, is fierce. There are also opportunities in Florence for junior rugby, as well as competitive adult rugby at almost any level.
For Everlast-Mabo schedule and team information: