|Rugby union in Italy|
The badge on the national uniform
|Governing body||Italian Rugby Federation|
|First played||early 1900s|
|Registered players||79,487 (total)|
Rugby union in Italy is governed by the Italian Rugby Federation. Rugby was introduced into Italy in the early 1900s. It is also known as pallovale or palla ovale ("oval ball") within Italy.Two Italian professional teams (Treviso and Zebre) compete in Pro14, a league that also includes sides from Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and Wales. One of the teams is guaranteed a place in the European Rugby Champions Cup; the other normally plays in the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The Top12 is the main national club competition. Four Italian clubs from the national championship compete in a qualifying tournament that awards two places in the Challenge Cup. Italy competes in the Six Nations Championship and Rugby World Cup, and is classified as a tier one nation by World Rugby (formerly the International Rugby Board).
The governing body of Italian rugby union is the Federazione Italiana Rugby (FIR). An original organisational committee was established in 1911, although it was in 1928 when the body became the FIR, and in 1987, it joined the International Rugby Board.In 1934 the FIR became a founding member of the Federation Internationale de Rugby Amateur.
There are 1,024 rugby clubs within Italy. These clubs support 73,419 registered male players, as well as 8,118 registered female players.[ citation needed ]
Many teams are either from Veneto or Lombardy in the north of Italy. Rugby has not achieved a national presence, with large areas in southern Italy without any significant clubs.
Italian players also play for other European rugby clubs, such as those in the Aviva Premiership.
The remote ancestry of rugby has been linked to a Roman game known as harpastum, which spread throughout their Empire, include the province of Britannia. Athenaeuswrites:
Galen, in On Exercise with the Small Ball,describes Harpastum as:
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 line.
Another remote Roman ancestor of rugby may be a game called trigon, 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 or large bladder-ball.
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 fiorentino played in Florence. The 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 ("kick"). The first official rules of calcio fiorentino 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 sandpit.
British communities brought rugby to Genoa between 1890 and 1895, with other games in Italy around 1909. The society that organised the first games dissolved soon after them.
Italian rugby's traditional heartland consists of the small country towns in the Po Valley and other parts of Northern Italy.Some believe that Italian workers returning from France, particularly the south, introduced the game and gave it a significant rural/working class base, which still exists in towns such as Treviso and Rovigo. A demonstration game was also played in 1910 in Turin between SCUF 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 well.
The first match played by a representative Italian XV was in 1911, between US Milanese and Voiron of France. On 25 July of the same year the "Propaganda Committee" was formed which in 1928 became the Federazione Italiana Rugby (FIR).
An original organisational committee was established in 1911, although it was in 1928 when the body became the FIR.
The national team played their first game in May 1929 in Barcelona where they lost 0-9 against Spain. A week later, a rematch was held in Milan, where Italy beat Spain 3-0. 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 1934 the FIR became founding members of FIRA (Fédération Internationale de Rugby Amateur) along with the national teams of Italy, France, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Germany. In 1936 Italy took part in the Fira European Tournament, in Berlin, along with France, Germany and Romania and in 1937, in Paris, along with France, Germany, Romania, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Rugby union spread to other parts of Italy, especially the cities of Rome, Bologna, Padua, Naples, Brescia, Torino 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.
The Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini rebranded rugby union as palla ovale ("oval ball"), deciding it was an evolution of the Roman game harpastum. 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, 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, his 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.
The Second World War interrupted Italian rugby union, as it did in other rugby-playing nations. Post-war, there was a desire to return to normality and Italian rugby union 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 union.
In the 1960s the Italian Rugby Union had their rival sport, rugby league, hampered by threatening to ban rugby league players from playing rugby union for life.
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 in 1987, 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 narrowly lost to the Australians 23-20 in 1994(who at time were world champions) The next week Italy were again competitive and Australia struggled to a 20-7 victory.
In 1987, the Federazione Italiana Rugby joined the International Rugby Board (IRB), now known as World Rugby. 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 victory over a home nation, against Ireland in Treviso, in a Rugby World Cup warm up. In 1999, the domestic competition ran its 100th tournament, with Benetton Treviso winning the championship that year.
In 2000, Italy joined the Five Nations Championships, turning the competition into the Six Nations Championship. In both the 2007 Six Nations and the 2013 Six Nations, Italy finished fourth, their best placing yet.
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 have competed in the Six Nations Championship since 2000 and at all the Rugby World Cups. Italy's best result at a Rugby World Cup was at the 2007 tournament in France, where they won two of their four pool matches and lost by two points to Scotland, narrowly missing the quarter-finals.
On St. Valentine's Day 2010, Italy lost narrowly to England in Rome (12-17), further consolidating Italy's rise in international rugby, and this rise continued with a 22-21 victory over France on 12 March 2011.
Notable Italian players include:
Italy also has a national rugby sevens team.
The World Rugby Nations Cup in Romania and World Rugby Tbilisi Cup in Georgia are tournaments involving the host teams and usually Tier One teams like Argentina XV and Emerging Italy and Tier Two teams like Portugal and Russia. Nations Cup was first held in 2006.
Apart from the two Italian teams competing in the Pro14, European Rugby Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup, the Top12 is the 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, and was extended to twelve teams in 2012/13. 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 Top12, domestic Italian rugby is played in the Campionati Nazionali which consists of:
Serie A: divided into 4 pools of 6 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. From 2010 it's renamed in Excellence Trophy.
Two Italian sides, Treviso and Aironi were admitted to the Pro12 on 8 March 2009, and started playing in the league from the 2010/11 season. The announcement by Celtic rugby followed a long period of negotiations and planning, starting with a tentative agreement in 2008 to admit two Italian sides. During 2009 the FIR organised a competition to choose which two sides would win the two places. This resulted in a team based in Rome winning one of the two places, despite the Italian rugby heartland being in the north. This decision was overturned after questions about the viability of the new franchise, with Treviso taking its place. Only after repeated assurances by the FIR of the ability of the two new sides to contribute financially to the league did Celtic rugby finally admit the two teams.
For the 2012/13 season, Aironi left the Pro12, and was replaced by Zebre, a team based in Parma.
Italy fielded teams in the European knock-out competition, the Heineken Cup, from its inception in 1995–96 through its final season of 2013–14. The Heineken Cup was 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. Through the 2009–10 season, Italy usually had two to three clubs in the Heineken Cup. Starting with the 2010–11 season, Italy's two Pro12 sides automatically entered the Heineken Cup.
Starting in 2014–15, the Heineken Cup has been replaced by the European Rugby Champions Cup. Italy is guaranteed one place in the Champions Cup; the Italian Pro12 team that finishes higher on the previous season's Pro12 table automatically qualifies. The second Italian Pro12 club can earn a Champions Cup place if it is one of the three highest-placed teams apart from the top team of each Pro12 country (Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Wales). Beginning with the 2014–15 season, the second Italian club has another path to the following season's Champions Cup—if it is one of the top two Pro12 teams that does not qualify for the Champions Cup, it will enter a play-off for a Champions Cup place that also involves the seventh-place sides from the English Premiership and Top 14.
The European Challenge Cup in rugby union, known as the Parker Pen Shield from 2001 to 2003, Parker Pen Challenge Cup from 2003 to 2005, and the Amlin Challenge Cup from 2009 to 2014, was the sister competition to the Heineken Cup. It was competed for by teams from England, France, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, and Romania (plus, in some years, Portugal and Spain) on a knock-out basis.
Italy entered 4 clubs: those finishing 1st to 4th in the Eccellenza. Clubs had previously competed in the European Shield, though that particular competition was restructured in 2005.
Starting in the 2014–15 season, the original Challenge Cup was replaced by the European Rugby Challenge Cup. Any Italian Pro12 team that does not qualify for the Champions Cup plays in the current Challenge Cup.
The introduction of the new European club competition structure for 2014–15 will see the creation of a completely new third-tier competition, the Qualifying Competition. The structure has not yet been announced, but it will involve the top four teams from the Eccellenza plus club sides from second-tier European rugby nations. These sides will compete for two places in the Challenge Cup.
The PRO14 is an annual rugby union competition involving professional sides from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. The league is one of the three major professional leagues in Europe, the most successful European teams from which go forward to compete in the European Rugby Champions Cup, the pan-European championship which replaced the Heineken Cup after the 2013–14 season.
The Top10, known as the Peroni Top10 for sponsorship reasons, and formerly Top 12, is Italy's top level professional men's rugby union competition. The Top 10 is run by Federazione Italiana Rugby (FIR) and is contested by 10 teams as of the 2019-2020 season, following the Italian federation's decision to name Peroni as the official partner of the Top10 competition.
Benetton Rugby is an Italian professional rugby union team based in Treviso, Veneto competing in the Pro14, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and European Champions Cup.
Volata ("flow") is a code of football developed and promoted by Italian fascists for a brief period during the late 1920s and early 1930s, in an attempt to displace sports with non-Italian origins, such as association football (soccer) and rugby union.
Rugby union in Scotland is a popular team sport. Scotland's national side today competes in the annual Six Nations Championship and the Rugby World Cup. The first ever international rugby match was played on 27 March 1871, at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh, when Scotland defeated England in front of 4,000 people. Professional clubs compete in the Pro14, European Rugby Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup, while the Scottish League Championship exists for over 200 amateur and semi-professional clubs, as does a knock-out competition, the Scottish Cup. The governing body, the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU), is one of the ten first-tier member nations of World Rugby.
The Italian Rugby Federation or FIR is the governing body for the sport of rugby union in Italy. The FIR has one seat on the 28-member World Rugby Council, the governing body of World Rugby.
Rugby union in England is one of the leading professional and recreational team sports. In 1871 the Rugby Football Union, the governing body for rugby union in England, was formed by 21 rugby clubs, and the first international match, which involved England, was played in Scotland. The English national team compete annually in the Six Nations Championship, and are former world champions after winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup. The top domestic men's club competition is Premiership Rugby, and English clubs also compete in international competitions such as the European Rugby Champions Cup. The top domestic women's competition is the Premier 15s.
Rugby union in Ireland is a popular team sport. Rugby union is organised on an all-Ireland basis with one national team, governing body and league for both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Ireland is the third-oldest rugby nation after England and Scotland respectively, and the game was organised there fractionally before in Wales.
Rugby union in France is a popular team sport. Rugby union was first introduced in the early 1870s by British residents. Elite French clubs participate in the professional domestic club league, the Top 14. Clubs also compete in the European knock-out competition, the European Rugby Champions Cup, which replaced the Heineken Cup from 2014–15.
Sport in Italy has a long tradition. In several sports, both individual and team, Italy has good representation and many successes. Football is the most popular sport in Italy. Italy won the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and is currently the second most successful football team in World Cup history, after Brazil, having won four FIFA World Cup championships.
The top level of competition in the Irish rugby union system is the Pro14, a league of professional teams originally from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales that expanded to include two Italian teams in the 2010–11 season and two South African teams in the 2017–18 season. Ireland currently has four entries in the Pro14. Ireland also has a domestic competition the All Ireland League and Provincial Leagues run by the different provincial branches of the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU).
Aironi Rugby was an Italian professional rugby union team competing in the Pro12 and the Heineken Cup, representing the Italian regions of Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna. It lost its status as a regional side at the end of the 2011–12 season, as the Italian Rugby Federation revoked its licence for financial reasons. They were replaced by Zebre from the 2012–13 season.
The 2013–14 Amlin Challenge Cup was the 18th and final season of the European Challenge Cup, Europe's second tier club rugby union competition. A total of 23 teams participated: 20 in the pool stage, plus three teams parachuting into the knockout stages from the Heineken Cup. The original 20 teams represented six countries.
The European Rugby Champions Cup is an annual rugby union tournament organised by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR). It is the top-tier competition for clubs whose countries' national teams compete in the Six Nations Championship. Clubs qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup via their final positions in their respective national/regional leagues or via winning the second-tier Challenge Cup; those that do not qualify are instead eligible to compete in the second-tier Challenge Cup.
The European Rugby Challenge Cup is an annual European rugby union competition organised by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR). It is the second-tier competition for European clubs behind the European Rugby Champions Cup. From its inception in 1996 to 2014, it was known as the European Challenge Cup and governed by European Rugby Cup (ERC). Following disagreements in the structure of the tournament's format and division of revenue, the English and French leagues withdrew to form the EPCR, which organized the Challenge Cup and the Champions Cup since the 2014–15 season.
European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is the governing body and organiser of the two major European rugby union club tournaments: the European Rugby Champions Cup and the European Rugby Challenge Cup. A third tournament, the European Rugby Challenge Cup Qualifying Competition was introduced as a qualification competition for clubs from minor nations to enter the Challenge Cup. EPCR shared control of this tournament with Rugby Europe, the international federation for rugby union in Europe, and with the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR). The tournament was discontinued after the 2018–19 season.
The 2015–16 European Rugby Champions Cup was the second European Rugby Champions Cup championship, the annual rugby union club competition for teams from the top six nations in European rugby. The European Rugby Champions Cup replaced the Heineken Cup, which was Europe's top-tier competition for rugby clubs for the first nineteen years of professional European rugby union.
The 2018–19 European Rugby Champions Cup is the fifth season of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the annual club rugby union competition run by European Professional Club Rugby (ECPR) for teams from the top six nations in Europe. It is the 24th season of pan-European professional club rugby competition. This competition is the first to be sponsored by Heineken since the 2013–14 season.
The 2019–20 European Rugby Champions Cup was the sixth season of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the annual club rugby union competition run by European Professional Club Rugby (ECPR) for teams from the top six nations in European rugby. It was the 25th season of pan-European professional club rugby competition.
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