Young people, natural players … How accustomed to hating Italy is trying to restore its image

Let’s get rid of the angry figures immediately. Italy have not signed a single win in the competition since February 28, 2015 (22–19 win over Scotland), before starting their Six Nations tournament against XV of France, Sunday 6 February. Overall, 32 consecutive losses, and a negative record in spades.

Basically, Italy is a bit like the student we all knew in class (that we were too, probably): at the bottom of the class, subscribed to last places and worst grades, but not a dunce. Like a laborer, industrious, he logs in like crazy, submits to private teachers… but keeps failing.

For six years, playing against Squadra Azura has definitely allowed you to score five points and not finish last in the tournament. A favorable fate for the five other nations, but the Italians refused to forgo it. For several seasons, a national rugby scheme has been introduced (since 2000) to reverse the curve and send the debate to hell over the legality of their attendance at the tournament. To overcome evil, Italy relies on a tripartite: power to youth, faith in its provinces, the naturalization of many talents from elsewhere.

The rare good news from Italian rugby usually goes sideways, as of June 19, 2021. On that day, Benetton Treviso, one of the two Italian representatives, joined the United Rugby Championship (Club Championship) along with Zebre (Parma). Including Welsh, Scottish, Irish and South African clubs) won the first title of a Transalpine nation. ,It’s no secret that Benetton did quite well at the URC, winning the last Rainbow Cup and still vying for the play-offs this year.” Remembers Marzio Innocenti, president of the Italian Rugby Federation since 2021.

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The Italians of Benetton Treviso celebrate their victory at the Pro 14 Rainbow Cup in Treviso on June 19, 2021.  (Alfio Garris / Cepa)

The feat, phenomenal, at the end was little commented on outside the boot. Nevertheless it serves as the consecration of the approach governed by Italian rugby since 2010. Participation in this international championship has enabled the two clubs to distance themselves from domestic competition, which is considered weak, to be able to challenge the best European teams and players that fill the ranks of the British selections every week. . An inspiring model for the thoughtful heads of Italian rugby who implemented it in a “copy and paste” manner. Seventeen players from Benetton Travis and three players from Zebre will be on the pitch at the Stade de France on Sunday.

Since late 2010, the federation has also started its business of naturalizing foreign players playing in Benetton Treviso. The idea is simple: to attract players to the northern city who are or are not selectable with their country to enable them to become an Italian international in three years.

Thus, six natural players will represent Italy on Sunday: Toa Hlafihi (born in New Zealand), scorer Montana Ione (Australia), Juan Ignacio Breaux (Argentina) or substitutes Appalem Feva (New Zealand), Ivan Nemer (Argentina) and Callum. Briley (UK). All arrived in an Italian team between 2015 and 2020, first in Pro 10 then in Benetton Treviso or Zebre. Some, such as Breaux, also wore second selection jerseys before donning the Italian warm-up blue. David Sissi and Bram Stein not selected to face France complete the list.

If other selections do the same, such as Virimi Wakatawa and Paul Willems in France or Duhan Van Der Merwe In Scotland, this strategy forms the hard core of transalpine selection. Margio Innocenti Tempers: “If someone has the talent and drive to represent our country on the pitch, no matter where they are born, there will be room for them in the team to the extent they deserve it. We play by the same rules as we play Any other national team and ‘outcast’ players can be part of our project.”

Ideal for solidifying your group in the short term, this naturalization strategy is in keeping with the vitally important work done with young Italian shooters. After experiencing several lean years, the Italian under-20s have begun to pick up pace.

The trust in them continues to grow. “There’s a lot of talent, marzio proudly says Innocent, We introduced the team from Italy ‘Emergency’ [sorte d’équipe nationale B] As a first step towards achieving national selection, working on the commitment of the top 10 clubs [le championnat italien] To be a part of our unique player development journey.”

Arriving last summer, New Zealand coach Kieran Crowley should allow these efforts to bear fruit. First symbol: They picked captain Michel Lamaro, 23, and who only has ten selections.

“We have a very young team, which lacks experience, but our youth is an opportunity, it is something positive because we will still be in the selection in ten or twelve years, The playwright Paolo Garbisi said, he himself is 23 years old. Maintaining our level during this time will be our biggest challenge.”

Italian ruby ​​player Paolo Garbisi gives instructions during his team's match at the Six Nations tournament against Ireland on February 27, 2021.  (LORENZO DI COLA/NURFOTO/AFP)

A first challenge that already looks more viable than a win against the Blues of Fabian Galthy on Sunday at the Stade de France. But you never know, the efforts of the youngest in the class may pay off.

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About the Author: Piers Parker

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