Watching Rugby in Italy

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There are some things that automatically make you think of Italy. Espresso coffee, pizzas, wine – the food and drink of the country is legendary and has spread across the world as travelers have discovered their unique tastes. Fashion is also virtually synonymous with Italy, with scores of great designers and famous models originating from here.

But when it comes to sport, football is the one that immediately springs to mind. There has been global success in basketball and track and field in recent years but, for many, the great old football clubs of Rome, Milan and Turin are the sporting icons of Italy. So, that leaves a sport like rugby as something of a niche.

There are signs that things are changing for Italian rugby. Global recognition in the sport has been there for a while, thanks to the national side’s inclusion in the Six Nations competition. But a quick glance at the Rugby World Cup betting odds for the most recent tournament will have shown that Italy is still not considered a major power in the game.

But how popular is rugby in Italy right now? And where are you more likely to catch an oval-shaped ball game than anything else? Here’s our guide to watching rugby in Italy.

Long History

Rugby can trace its origins in Italy back to the early 1900s. The game is thought to have been introduced by French workers in the north and there has been a governing body in the country since before WW1. But the existence of other rugby-style games in Italy can be traced back much further.

A game quite similar to rugby is mentioned in documents from the days of the Roman Empire. So there is a history of the game dating back centuries. The games may not have looked very much like the sport we know today. But it shows that there has also been an interest in these kinds of sports games in Italy.

Second Tier Power

There are a number of reasons why Italian rugby has never really taken off as what could be considered a major sport. The first is, quite simply, that rugby is a niche sport in many countries and regions of the world. Even places like the US and Canada are only really just beginning to embrace rugby.

So it might be more important to look at the success that Italy has had in rugby, rather than compare it to the very best in the game. There is no doubt that Italy can consider itself a second-tier power. Outside the major, established nations, Italy is one of the best and consistently qualifies for World Cups – something the famed football team hasn’t always been able to do in recent years!

Six Nations Era

The real breakthrough onto the global stage for Italian rugby was its inclusion in the famous Six Nations tournament. Originally called the Five Nations, this annual competition was between England, Wales, Scotland, France and Ireland, and was considered the major international tournament in the northern hemisphere.

After routinely beating the rest of the European nations below this top tier of the game, Italy was invited to join the tournament in 2000. Unfortunately, many of the best players at that time had come to the end of their careers, but there was a first victory against Scotland in that first season.

It is true that Italy more often than not still finishes in sixth position. But there have been a number of times when the team has managed to make it to fourth. Even without any major success in the Six Nations, just the regular games against the other top European teams have pushed the Italian game forward.

Italy at the Rugby World Cup

The first rugby World Cup took place in Australia and New Zealand in 1987 and Italy has played in every single tournament since. The disappointing caveat to that impressive statistic is that the team has never made it out of the opening group phase.

Obviously, the best of the best compete at the World Cup – and there are other regions of the world, including the South Pacific, that have vastly improved in recent years. But never making it to the last eight has condemned the sport to little media attention at home. Italy finished third in its World Cup group this year and without more success, the newspapers and sports media will continue to concentrate on football.

Better results against the top teams in the world will boost the sport’s profile

Rugby in Italy

Although rugby in Italy is regarded as a national sport, unlike in some other countries where it is more popular in distinct regions, the fact that many of the early clubs were started by French workers means that the game’s heartland in Italy is centered around the Po Valley.

Internationals and Six Nations games are usually staged in Rome – which goes down very well with visiting fans – but the big rugby clubs and teams of Italy are more likely to be found in places like Veneto and Lombardy.

The Future of Italian Rugby

Although the World Cup ended at the group stage once again – and there was an eighth consecutive sixth-place finish in the Six Nations this year – it could be said that there is a bright future for Italian rugby. The clubs are beginning to better in continental competition, and the national side is considered to be part of the second tier of the game.

Although defeat is depressingly common for the Azzurri, that is because it is routinely playing the very best in the world. The margin of defeat is decreasing and there is now more depth in the Italy squad than for many years,

No one expects rugby to become as popular as football in Italy. But, if the team can manage some high-profile victories against the elite nations and get through to the knockout stage of the next World Cup in Australia in four year’s time, there could be a new generation of rugby stars that hail from the peninsula.

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