|Union||Federazione Italiana Rugby|
|Nickname(s)||Azzurri (the Blues), The Gladiators of Rome|
|Coach||Flag of South Africa Nick Mallett|
|Most caps||Alessandro Troncon (101)|
|Top scorer||Diego Dominguez (1010)|
|Most tries||Marcello Cuttitta (25)|
|Template:Country data ESP 9 - 0 Template:Ru-rt|
(20 May, 1929)
|Template:Country data CZE 8 - 104 Template:Ru-rt|
(18 May 1994)
|Template:Country data RSA 101 - 0 Template:Ru-rt|
(19 June 1999)
|Appearances||6 (First in 1987)|
|Best result||Two wins, 2003 and 2007|
- For the rugby sevens side, see Italian national rugby union team (sevens)
The Italy national rugby union team represent the nation of Italy in the sport of rugby union. The team are also known as the Azzurri (Blues) and "The Gladiators of Rome". Italy have been playing international rugby since the late 1920s, and today are considered one of the best rugby nations in Europe and compete annually in the Six Nations Championship with England, France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Italy really came to prominence following 2000 when they became a part of the Five Nations, making it the Six Nations. Italy have also competed at every Rugby World Cup since the first tournament in 1987. Their best result thus far has been in 2003 where they managed two wins during the pool stages.
Italy achieved their best result thus far in the Six Nations in the 2007 competition, with wins over Scotland and Wales. Italy are grouped in Pool C of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, with Scotland, the All Blacks, Romania and Portugal. Their current head coach is Nick Mallett.
Forms of football involving both hands and feet have long been played in Italy from Roman times to the medieval era. It is normally said that Rugby union was first introduced into Italy by French students at Milan University in 1911 but it has been established that British communities brought rugby to Genoa between 1890 and 1895. It remains stronger in the North of Italy than elsewhere.
The first documented rugby union match played in Italy was a demonstration game played in 1910 in Turin between Racing Club París and Servette of Geneva. The society that organised the game didn't have a long life and dissolved after this first game but the game became known in Milan. The first match played by an Italian team was a year later US Milanese against Voiron of France. On July 25 of the same year the "Propaganda Committee" was formed which in 1928 became the Federazione Italiana Rugby (FIR). There was a further game in 1928 when Ambrosiana Milano beat R.C.T. Bucharest 15-3.
The first Italian championship, won by Ambrosiana Milano, took place in 1929, with 6 of the 16 teams that existed in Italy. In May of the same year Italy played their first international losing 9-0 against Spain in Barcelona. After the formation of FIRA in 1934, which brought together the national teams of Italy, France, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Germany rugby union spreads through Italy, especially the cities of Milan, Rome, Turin, Bologna, Padua, Naples, Genoa, Brescia, Treviso, Rovigo and Parma. France was the first of the Championship countries to play Italy at senior level and the inaugural match took place in 1937, France winning 43-5.
World War Two interrupted Italian rugby union. After World War Two, there was a desire to return to normal and Italian rugby union entered a new dimension thanks to the help of Allied troops in Italy. But Italy followed the French model until the 70s. Very soon Veneto (Rovigo, Padua and Treviso) came to assume a prominent position in the Italian rugby union scene earning the name "Republic of the Italian rugby union". Parma and L'Aquila were also main centres for rugby union.
In the 70s and 80s rugby union made enormous progress thanks to great foreign players (John Kirwan, Botha, Campese, Lynagh) and coaches (Saby, Bish, Greenwood, Nelie Smith) in the Italian championship. Even foreign coaches were and continue to be chosen for the national team, like Bertrande Fourcade and Georges Costes. In 1973 the national team went on a tour of South Africa, coached by ex-Springbok prop Amos Du Ploony. Tours of England and Scotland followed, even games against Australia and New Zealand, the masters of their day.
Since 1980 Italy has been chasing the dream of playing in the 5 Nations. Consistently good results against nations that now play in the European Nations Cup (Romania, Spain, Georgia etc), and the occasional win against the major nations such as France, Scotland, Wales or Ireland meant that they were often talked about as strong candidates.
The Azzurri took part in the first ever Rugby World Cup match against New Zealand on 22 May 1987. The match proved a one sided affair with New Zealand convincing 70-6 winners against a young Italian side. John Kirwan, later to become the Italian national coach, scored one of the tournament’s greatest ever tries for the All Blacks. Italy did, however, manage to beat Fiji and finished third in their pool; failing to make the finals.
At the 1991 World Cup, Italy were grouped in a tough pool with the likes of England and the All Blacks. They lost both of these games but beat the USA. At 1995 World Cup in South Africa, Italy came close to beating England; losing 20-27 but managed to beat Argentina. They finished third in their pool again below England and Western Samoa, but above Argentina
The Italians then built a very formidable side in the 1990s and recorded a lot of victories over Five nations opposition. In 1996, a deal between British Sky Broadcasting and the Rugby Football Union meant that England home games were exclusively shown on Sky. England were threatened with being expelled from the five nations to be replaced by Italy. This threat was never carried out as a deal was worked out.
Italy recorded two consecutive victories over Ireland in 1997 on January 4 37-29 at Lansdowne Road and on December 20 37-22 in Bologna. On March 22, 1997 they recorded their first and so far only win over France 40-32 (in Grenoble). In January 1998 Scotland were the victims with Italy winning 25-21 (in Treviso); in the same year in the Rugby World Cup Qualifiers, they lost 23-15 against England at Huddersfield, but they argued for a try by Alessandro Troncon disallowed by the referee.
At the 1999 World Cup, Italy were drawn with New Zealand for the third time and lost again. They didn't win a single pool match and went home before the knock-out stage.
Italy finally joined the Six Nations Championship in 2000 but their admission coincided with the departure of some of their best players. Nevertheless they won their opening game against the reigning champions Scotland 34-20. Since then they have struggled to compete against the other nations and their participation was called into question, however they answered their critics by playing a more disciplined game. The 2001 and 2002 tournaments were particularly disappointing as they did not win a single game. Coach Brad Johnstone was sacked in 2002 after an alleged show of 'player power'.
John Kirwan was then appointed coach. Italy won two pool games at the 2003 World Cup, defeating both Canada and Tonga, but lost to the All Blacks and Wales. They managed to get their second win in 2003 30-22 against Wales and Italy avoided the wooden spoon. They followed up by winning two games at the World Cup, another first, though the tournament was ultimately disappointing as the Welsh gained revenge with a 27-15 success that meant that Italy were the only Six Nations country not to advance to the knock-out stage. Their third win came against Scotland in 2004.
With many of their top players also involved in European club competition, the overall standard of play is improving constantly but it is likely to be a long time before Italy win their first Six Nations Championship. More and more Italians are coming to watch rugby union games and whereas before most of the fans at the Stadio Flaminio were away fans, now Italy has a good home crowd. One cause for optimism in Italian rugby is that their star players tend to be young and are likely to improve with time. Moreover, the budget of F.I.R. has grown impressively: currently €21 million is available.
Italy, along with other nations, had made good use of IRB rules which allowed them to select foreign born players if they had Italian ancestry or had lived in Italy for a qualifying period of 3 years. From 2004 they announced that they would only pick three such 'non-Italians' per team in order to develop their own domestic players.
In 2005 Italy finished bottom of the table again and failed to win a single game. Kirwan was sacked and replaced with Pierre Berbizier. Italy then went on a tour of Argentina where they surprised many by beating the Pumas 30-29 and drawing the series 1-1 (the only 2005 victory of a northern hemisphere team visiting a southern hemisphere team). However the Pumas had their revenge when they visited Genoa and beat Italy 39-22.
In the 2006 Six Nations Championship the Italian team performed strongly against every team, leading against both England and France in the first half, but lost their first three games. They did, however, get a creditable 18-18 draw away to Wales, their first ever away point in the tournament, and were unlucky not to draw with Scotland in Rome in the final game, losing 10-13 courtesy of a late Scottish penalty.
In the 2007 Six Nations Championship, Italy started poorly, losing to France 3-39, and planned to play against a resurgent England at Twickenham. However, Italy's performance improved considerably, holding England to a hollow victory of 20-7, which included a debatable try. Italy's Alessandro Troncon also became man of the match. Italy followed on with a stunning start to their match at Murrayfield against Scotland, with Mauro Bergamasco scoring a try off a charged-down kick in the first minute, and Andrea Scanavacca and Kaine Robertson scoring intercept tries within the next five minutes; Scotland's shocking start gifted Italy a 21-0 lead after 7 minutes. The Azzurri went on to a 37-17 victory, their first ever away win in the Six Nations.
Italy's next match was against Wales. In a close match, Italy's Mauro Bergamasco touched a try down in the last two minutes to give a winning score of 23-20, their second victory over Wales, first consecutive victory in the Six Nations and their highest position ever in the Six Nations. However the match was not without controversy, as a last minute penalty over the line by Wales was later deemed out of time by Chris White. Wales were told by White there was "10 seconds" remaining but as Wales kicked to touch, under the instruction of the TMO, White blew the whistle for full time.
The domestic interest in rugby reached new heights with Italy's new success front page media coverage and the sport being held up as a model of fair play. Media and public interest in the national team was very high during the sides new found success. Despite losing their last game to Ireland, the headline on page one of the national sport newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport read "To lose like this is beautiful," and 10,000 fans later greeted the national team at Rome's Piazza del Popolo.
At the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, Italy were in pool C, which also included New Zealand, Portugal, Romania and Scotland. Italy lost their opening game against the All Blacks, and then won against Romania and then Portugal, and in the final pool game, lost to Scotland.
Italy play in blue jerseys; as of 2007, the strip is manufactured by Kappa and the Italian bank Cariparma & Piacenza is the shirt sponsor.
Since entering the Six Nations Championship in 2000, Italy have yet to win the tournament. Italy got off to a positive start to the Six Nations in their first year; defeating Scotland in their first match of competition. Italy finished fifth in the 2003 competition above Wales. The following year Italy managed to finish fifth again, above Scotland in the final standings. In the 2007 Six Nations Italy defeated Scotland at Murrayfield for their first win away from home (Rome) in the competition. Two weeks later Italy defeated Wales for the second time in the history of the tournament in Rome: it was the first time the team won two games in the championship, and finished in 4th place. The winner of the Italy-France game is also awarded the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy.
Italy have competed at every Rugby World Cup since the competitions inception in 1987. Italy finished third in their pool at their first World Cup, defeating Fiji, but not making the finals. They did not make the finals in 1991, grouped in a tough pool with the likes of England and the All Blacks. At the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, they finished behind England and Western Samoa, but above Argentina in their pool.
In 1999 they did not make the finals, with their All Blacks and Tonga. Italy won two pool games at the 2003 World Cup, defeating both Canada and Tonga, but lost to the All Blacks and Wales. Italy played the Rugby World Cup 2007 in Pool C, against New Zealand, Scotland, Romania and again Portugal (beaten 83-0 in the qualifiers) and had a very good chance of making the quarter finals and even the semi finals for the first time. However, Italy were undone by indiscipline in the crucial group match against Scotland in St. Etienne. Chris Paterson kicked all of Scotland's point in a 18-16 victory, despite Italy crossing the line for the game's only try. Bortulussi missed a match-winning kick in an even contest that Scotland arguably deserved to win in the end.
Italy's squad for the 2007 World Cup:
- Most selections:
- Most tries:
- Most points:
- Federazione Italiana Rugby official site
- Italian rugby union news from Planet Rugby
- Italian Rugby Friends
- World Cup Preview