RBS 6 Nations – Why excluding Italy would be bad for business
After Italy’s defeat against England at Twickenham, some areas of the UK press started questioning the validity of their place in the 6 Nations tournament. Whatever happened to fairness and solidarity and brotherhood? Italy have earned their place, they have not got this stage by chance or casual favour. They went through years of auditions, pressing their case for inclusion throughout the nineties. Once admitted, they won their opening day fixture, beating Scotland 34-20 at the Stadio Flaminio to scenes of exultation and rugby even trumped football on the pages of La Gazzetta dello Sport that weekend. Italy had new heroes to acclaim. There have been plenty of similar days since then, with victories over every single side in the Six Nations, except for England. Two years ago, France and Ireland were beaten in Rome. There have been wins on the road, too, in Edinburgh, in Dublin (pre-Six Nations entry) and a draw in Cardiff (18-18) in 2006. Italy have also defeated France in Grenoble (40-32) in 1997. Italy have also produced some of the finest players of the last two decades in Parisse, Giovanelli, fly-half Diego Dominguez, scrum-half Alessandro Troncon, lock Carlo Checchinato, wing Paolo Vaccari, the Bergamasco and Cuttitta brothers as well as a legion of tough-as-teak front-rowers such as Martin Castrogiovanni. Nor should we understate the likes of centre Luca Morisi, who lit up Twickenham on Saturday in much the way that Jonathan Joseph did in English colours.
You do not dismiss these men lightly. With due respect to the likes of Georgia, Portugal or Spain, or from another era when they troubled the home nations and France as much as Italy do these days, Romania, the merits of their claim for inclusion does not hold much substance. Of course, in theory, there is an argument that opening up the competition to a more meritocratic entry system would serve to enhance standards in those countries and spread the rugby gospel through Europe. The theory has some appeal but the reality does not. There are other channels for those countries to push forward their development plans, through the second tier of European club rugby perhaps, or with the winner of the second-tier Six Nations tournament being granted an automatic November fixture against the bottom-placed side in the championship. That team has been Italy on 10 occasions, and another wooden spoon beckons if they do not manage to beat Scotland in Edinburgh on February 28. That fixture has a particular resonance as far as this debate is concerned. It was only a year ago that there were calls for Scotland to be shunted out into the cold after their witless, dismal performance against England at Murrayfield.
Scotland may well have lost their opening matches, against France and Wales, but there has been real zest and intelligence in their game. Players such as fullback Stuart Hogg, centre, Alex Dunbar and fly-half Finn Russell have made major contributions to the buzz and acclaim that have accompanied the first two rounds of the 2015 championship. The tournament works, it is a seller, the television viewing figures are high and the matches play to a backdrop of noise and colour in sold-out stadiums. The championship continues to provide a sporting carnival that is the envy of many not only for the drama it produces, but also for what it represents on the European front. The six European capitals host wandering supporters from all over, across five weekends injecting not just money in to local economies, but also a sense of connection and belonging. And, yes, while we are at it, would you really want to pass up on a trip to the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona every two years?
Well the best rugby predictions suggest that Italy will not be leaving the RBS 6 Nations anytime soon anyone disagree?