union is a popular sport in Italy.
The sport is thought to have been
introduced to the country in the early 1900s, with an
organisational committee being established in 1911. The Super 10
competition is the
main club rugby competition in the country, although clubs also
participate in Europe's Heineken Cup
annually in the Six Nations
, and have competed at the Rugby World Cup
. Italy is classified as a
tier one nation by the International Rugby Board
The governing body of Italian rugby union is the Federazione Italiana Rugby
An original organisational committee was established in 1911,
although it was in 1928 when the body became the FIR, and in 1987,
they joined the International
. In 1934 the FIR became founding members of the
Federation Internationale de Rugby
The remote ancestry of rugby has been linked to a Roman game known
, which spread throughout
, include the province of
- "Harpastum, which used to be called Phaininda, is the game
I like most of all. Great are the exertion and fatigue
attendant upon contests of ball-playing, and violent twisting and
turning of the neck. Hence Antiphanes, "Damn it, what a pain in
the neck I've got." He describes the game thus: "He seized
the ball and passed it to a team-mate while dodging another and
laughing. He pushed it out of the way of another.
Another fellow player he raised to his feet. All the
while the crowd resounded with shouts of Out of bounds, Too far,
Right beside him, Over his head, On the ground, Up in the air, Too
short, Pass it back in the scrum."
, in On Exercise with the Small
, describes Harpastum as:
- "better than wrestling or running because it exercises
every part of the body, takes up little time, and costs
nothing."; it was "profitable training in strategy",
and could be "played with varying degrees of
strenuousness." Galen adds, "When, for example, people
face each other, vigorously attempting to prevent each other from
taking the space between, this exercise is a very heavy, vigorous
one, involving much use of the hold by the neck, and many wrestling
This game was apparently a romanized
version of a Greek
game called phaininda
. The general impression from ancient
descriptions is of a game quite similar to rugby. Additional
descriptions suggest a line was drawn in the dirt, and that the
teams would endeavor to keep the ball behind their side of the line
and prevent the opponents from reaching it. This seems rather like
an 'inverted' form of football. If the opponents had the ball on
their side of the line, the objective would seem to be to get in
and "pass" it to another player, or somehow get it back over the
Another remote Roman ancestor of rugby may be a game called
, which involved three players
passing a ball to one another by hand. The ball was usually small
and hard, but occasionally it was a follis
Italy is home to a number of forms of traditional football
, some of which
have features which are more similar to rugby, than to association football
, such as handling
the ball. A prime example of this is calcio
Piazza Santa Croce of Florence is the
cradle of this sport, that became known as giuoco del calcio
fiorentino ("Florentine kick game") or simply calcio
The first official rules of Calcio
were recorded in 1580, although the game had been
developing around Florence for some time before that date. The game
involved teams of 27 kicking and carrying a ball in a giant sandpit
set up in the Piazza Santa Croce in the centre of Florence, both
teams aiming for their designated point on the perimeter of the
Italy goes back around a century, and it has been established that
British communities brought rugby to Genoa between 1890
and 1895, with other confirmations of games in Italy around
The society that organised the first games didn't
survive long and dissolved soon after them.
Its traditional heartland consisted of the small country towns in
the Po Valley
and other parts of Northern Italy
. One version says that
Italian workers returning from France, particularly the south,
introduced the game there, and gave it a significant rural/working
class base, which still exists in towns such as Treviso and Rovigo.
demonstration game was also played in 1910 in Turin between
Racing Club París and
Servette of Geneva.
French students also introduced the game to Milan University
c. 1911. While each of
these events has been hailed as the "origin of Italian rugby", it
seems that they probably happened more or less simultaneously and
independent of one another, and that the introduction of rugby to
Italy was a series of events, rather than a single starting point.
Whatever the ultimate origins of the game in northern Italy, the
region's proximity to the French rugby heartland helped as
The first match played by a representative Italian XV was in 1911,
between US Milanese and Voiron of France. On July 25
of the same year the "Propaganda Committee"
was formed which in 1928 became the Federazione Italiana Rugby
An original organisational committee was established in 1911,
although it was in 1928 when the body became the FIR.
1920s and Fascist period
national team played their first game in 1929 in Barcelona where they lost 9 to nil against Spain.
week later, a rematch was held in Milan, where Italy beat Spain 3
to nil. That same year, the Italian premiership
inaugural competition. Ambrosiana Milano won the first title.
There was a further game in 1928 when Ambrosiana Milano
beat R.C.T. Bucharest
The first Italian
, 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
union spread to other parts of Italy, especially the cities of
Rome, Bologna, Padua, Naples,Brescia, and
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.
dictator Benito Mussolini
rebranded rugby union as
, deciding it was an evolution of the Roman
. The game was used as a
vehicle for Fascist unity, and by 1927 rugby union had its own
propaganda committee. However, Mussolini found rugby union
inconveniently resistant to authority and dropped the sport in
disgust, and for Fascist purposes turned to volata
, a malleable kind of handball
. Volata never caught on and in 1933
the effort was officially abandoned, however the invention of the
game proved damaging to rugby union's popularity and place in
Italian sporting culture. After the decline of the volata
project, a ball game invented by Mussolini
supporters turned back to rugby in the years leading up to the
Second World War
as an alternative
to soccer, which they saw as an effete English influence. However
despite this far right involvement, Italian rugby managed to escape
too much of an association with the regime.
In 1934 the FIR became founding members of FIRA
Internationale de Rugby Amateur). In 1937 Italy took part in the
Fira European Tournament, in Paris, along with France
and the Netherlands
The Second World War
Italian rugby union, as it did in other rugby-playing nations.
Post-war, there was a desire to return to normality and Italian
entered a new dimension
thanks to the help of Allied troops in Italy. Very soon the 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 also became main centres for rugby
1980s and 90s
In the 1980s, a peculiar set of economic circumstances arose, which
helped bolster the game further. In an effort to promote the game,
sinking money into rugby became virtually tax-free, and large
amounts of sponsorship money went into the game, from companies as
large as Benetton
which set up their own
club sides. Benetton Treviso
for example was able to use this money to produce a dramatic rise
in standards. Players of Italian ancestry from Australia and Argentina were brought in, and the likes of Frano Botica, David
Campese, John Kirwan and
Michael Lynagh plied their trade in
Italy's top flight.
Although the rise in standards was not
immediate, the influx of money helped buy in some top foreign
coaches such as Mark Ella
and Bernard Fourcarde
, which allowed them to
develop their own stars such as Massimo Giovanelli
. This change for the
better was reflected in their scorelines - for example, when the
Italians played the All Blacks
they were humiliated 70-6, but when the All Blacks played them in
1991, they found themselves winning only 31-21 in a highly
competitive match. Italy held off the Australians 23-20 in 1994,
and although Australia beat them 20-7 in the next match, they
struggled to do so.
In 1987, the Federazione Italiana Rugby joined the International Rugby Board
That same year, the national side were invited to compete in the
first Rugby World Cup in 1987
Italy had to wait until 1988 to play their first Test against a
Home Nation. In 1995, the national side finally got their
first win against a home nation, against Ireland in Treviso, in a
Rugby World Cup warm up.
1999, the domestic competition ran its 100th tournament, with
championship that year.
In 2000, Italy joined the prestigious Five Nations Championships,
turning the competition into the Six Nations Championship
The domestic interest in rugby has 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 side's new found success.
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
despite a presence in central Italy,
rugby has not really penetrated southern
Italy except Naples.
While Italy continues to field many foreigners, and people of
recent Italian descent in their leagues and national team, they
still spawn a respectable amount of home grown talent, notable
Italian players include -
The locations of the Six Nations
The Italian national
rugby union side
have been playing international rugby since
the late 1920s, and are categorized, by the International Rugby Board
, as a
tier one nation. They currently compete in the Six Nations Championship
they were first included in during 2000, though they have yet to
win the competition. The team has thus far, competed at all the
Rugby World Cups
. Italy's best
result at a World Cup was at the 2007 tournament in France
, where they
won two of their four pool matches and lost by two points to
the quarter-finals by three points.2010 will be a very tough year
for the Azzuri with three of their 6 Nations matches being away
Italy also has a national sevens
The Nations Cup
is a tournament
involving Argentina A, Italy A, Portugal
. It was first held
The Super 10
main competition for rugby union clubs in Italy. The competition
was first contested in 1929, with six clubs. It was altered in 2002
to include just the top 10 sides of Italy. The competition runs
from September to May. After a home-and-away season, the top four
teams play a knock-out competition to decide the championship. The
winners are awarded the Albo d'Oro trophy.
The current teams are:
Below the Super 10, domestic Italian rugby is played in the
which consists of:
Serie A: divided into 2 leagues of 12 teams who play each other
home and away.
Serie B: divided into 4 leagues of 12 teams who play each other
home and away.
An Under 19 Championship and a female competition also exist.
The Coppa Italia
is a knock-out
competition for domestic clubs. The competition has been contested
annually since 1967, though it was not held from 1974 to 1980, and
1983 to 1994, and again in 1996, 1999 and 2002.
Celtic Rugby Board, organisers of the Magners League that currently includes teams
from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, tentatively
agreed in 2008 to admit two Italian teams to the league starting
with the 2010–11 season.
In 2009, The FIR asked for
proposals to create two new sides, one expected to be in the south,
and one in the north (where rugby is more popular).
In July 2009 the FIR announced that it had accepted two of these
bids. The first was a proposal for a new franchise named
Praetorians Roma, a collaboration between the two main teams in the
capital city Rome. The second winning bid was for a new team called
Aironi, based in Viadana but playing some games in the city of
Reggio Emilia. The third major bid, based on the current team of
Treviso, lost out despite being in the heartland of Italian Rugby.
The two winning bids will have until September 2009 to convince the
Magners League that they will be commercially viable.
Italy field teams in the European knock-out competition, the
, which is an annual rugby
union competition involving leading clubs, regional and provincial
teams from the rest of the Six Nations: England, France, Scotland,
Wales and Ireland. Italy usually has two to three clubs in the
European Challenge Cup
The European Challenge Cup in rugby union, known as the Parker Pen
Shield from 2001 to 2003 and Parker Pen Challenge Cup from 2003, is
the sister competition to the Heineken Cup. It is competed for by
teams from England, France, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, and
Romania on a knock-out basis.
Italy enters 4 clubs: those finishing 3rd and 4th in the Super 10,
and the winners of playoffs between 5th and 8th, and 6th and 7th.
Clubs had previously competed in the European Shield
, though that particular
competition was restructured in 2005.
There are 718 rugby clubs within Italy. These clubs support 73,419
registered male players, as well as 8,118 registered female
players. Many teams are either from Veneto
in the North of Italy.
is enjoying a renaissance with more media coverage than ever
before, with rugby union especially popular in Rome, L'Aquila and in the northern cities of Treviso (as well as
the whole Veneto), Milan, Genoa, Parma and Bologna.
The growth of rugby union in Italy has seen a large improvement in
the domestic player quality. This has subsequently led to a flow of
Italian players being bought by other European rugby clubs, such as
those in the Guinness
In the 2007 Six
, Italy not only won their first away match since their
inclusion, but also followed it up with another victory to finish
fourth, their best placing yet. Media and public interest in the
national team very high during the sides new found success. 10,000
fans greeted the national team at Rome's Piazza del Popolo after
their final match against Ireland.
- Bath, Richard (ed.) The Complete Book of Rugby (Seven
Oaks Ltd, 1997 ISBN 1 86200 013 3)
- Richards, Huw A Game for Hooligans: The
History of Rugby Union (Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 2007, ISBN 9781845962555)