May The Forza Be With You

May The Forza Be With You

Back in 1999 the people involved with running rugby in Europe decided that it would be a good idea to stop having a Five Nations tournament and make it the Six Nations instead. And in order to make up the numbers they would be inviting Italy to come and join in the party. How everyone laughed as this nation of soccer players with their fashionable haircuts and excitable hand gestures trotted into the international rugby arena and – barring a few hiccups on the part of the Welsh and Scots – became recurring victims of the most one-sided Roman massacres since the great Christians v. Lions match of 61 B.C.

With  frequent changes of coaching staff and habit of picking some decidedly second rate ex-pats to bolster their squad; the Italians have been subjected to some fairly harsh scrutiny over the years as to exactly what they bring to the party.

But last weekend all critics were silenced as the Italians showed guile, flair and a never-say-die attitude to earn a historic 22-21 victory over the French who, until the previous week, had been tipped by many as potential Grand Slam Champions. By vanquishing the Froggy foe, Italy made people sit up, pay attention and formally issue their invitation to the top table of world rugby.

An Italian car working - for now

All of which I find a little strange, because far from languishing in the second tier of the real beautiful game, the Azzurri have been world-beaters for as long as I can remember.

Sure, our pizza munching brethren haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory when it comes to win ratios, but from day one their contribution to the Six Nations has been about far more than that. To start with there is none of the historic bile and vitriol that comes with every other match in the tournament – everyone likes the Italians coming to town and from my experiences in Rome they sure know a thing or two about making guests welcome themselves.  Italian fans are funny, passionate, and knowledgeable; Stadio Flaminio is full of pretty girls and lots of cheery attendants who bring cans of Nastro Azzuro to your seat so you don’t have to miss any of the action whilst getting sloshed. And they had the foresight to play their home games in what is arguably the cradle of modern civilisation, so what starts as rugby match rapidly turns into a cultural and gastronomic extravaganza.

Winning is all very well, but as all true rugger buggers will tell you, it’s only part of a much bigger picture. And when it comes to providing an all encompassing experience that captures the very spirit of rugby, the Italians have been leading the world for some time.

Not that this will come as a surprise to anyone who has owned one of their cars.

Italian cars have always managed to encapsulate the very essence of motoring. Even the most menial of runabouts is blessed with a soul that foreign contemporaries can only look on with envy. They are more than the mere transportation appliances that the rest of the world manages to farm out – they are machines built with passion.

Passion however, is not very reliable. History has taught us that while the Italians are supremely talented when it comes to engineering excitement into a car, it usually comes at the expense of things day-to-day users consider quite important, such as the bodywork not spontaneously corroding and electrical systems functioning on a full-time basis.

But in a bizarre way that adds to the appeal – the frailty in conjunction with such extreme flamboyance intensifies the character of all things Italian, making them that bit more frustratingly loveable and ensuring those who adore cars, rugby and life in general will always hold a special place in their heart for them.

So while I expect the Italians to make more friends than headlines at this year’s Rugby World Cup, I look forward to the day when they get the chance to host the tournament themselves and show the world a side of the game – and life – that they do better than anyone else. Probably safest they have a word with Honda about supplying the official cars though.

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