Are we about to see a surge of improvement in Italian rugby? It would seem that way, as finally, after long debates and studies, it was confirmed this week that two Italian teams will be joining the Magners League next season.
The two teams, Aironi Rugby and Benetton Treviso, will comprise of players from full Italian internationals down to the U20 squad, as well as some overseas players to add a bit of bite to them.
This can only be a hugely positive step forward for Italy. If you look at the current Italian domestic league, you’ll find that the majority of players are part-time rugby players and have 9 to 5 jobs to contend with. With some of these players competing against guys that spend their lives in the gym and on the practice pitch, it’s astonishing that Italy are at all competitive in the Six Nations. Now, however, this development will allow the top players in Italy to improve on their rugby and compete against some of the best in the world on a more even field.
The Italian national team has enjoyed limited success in the Six Nations since they joined in 2000, with the majority of their wins coming against Scotland over the years. This will surely change though as their Magners League teams will be playing rugby at a standard which will boost confidence and ability and a winning attitude.
Having been to watch the Italians play in Rome in the Six Nations I’ve seen just how important the rugby is to them and their fans who turn out in huge numbers to watch, despite their side enjoying only limited success. They have one of the most eccentric fan bases and for them to start seeing massive improvements in their team would be phenomenal for the nation as a whole. The atmosphere at the Stadio Flaminio is always enjoyable, and I would have loved to have been at the sold-out San Siro to see them take on the All Blacks. Imagine the noise if and when the Azzurri start winning regularly.
I think Giancarlo Dondi, President of Federazione Italiana Rugby summed it up when he said “I am sure that the Magners League will bring benefits to all Italian rugby and will have a positive impact on the competitiveness of our national team’’
After a season or two, I believe the next step for these teams is to recruit top Italian players who are playing elsewhere in Europe. If they can entice the likes of Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiovanni back to playing for the Italian clubs, this would not only add valuable experience to the rest of the team but it would show the rest of Italy that they can keep home grown talent within their ranks rather than letting them jet off to other clubs around the globe.
This task will obviously be much easier if they enjoy success in the Magners League, so it will be fascinating to see how they fare next year. I for one am looking forward to seeing what this extra competitiveness will bring, not just for Italian rugby but for rugby as a whole.
By Sam Fitch