Massimo Giovanelli tells us the secrets of rugby Scotland
"The Scots are very strong in the broken game, that is aggressive, dirty, guerrilla. It will take heart, but also head. And not to disperse what good we had built and shown". Interview with the former captain of the Italian national team
Scotland, the first to enter the international arena, on 27 March 1871, in Edinburgh, in the cricket club of the Academicals, a green rectangle of rain and wind, four thousand onlookers and patriots, two halves of 50 minutes each, 20 Scots against 20 English . Scotland, the first to win, 1-0, at that time only kicks counted and tries were used to try the decisive transformation. Scotland, the homeland of Ned Haig, a butcher by profession, not on the pitch but in a shop, inventor of rugby sevens at Melrose; the homeland of Jock Wemyss, prop, who had lost an eye during the First World War, and when asked how many mistakes he had made while playing, he replied that he had only seen half of those attributed to him; the home of Jim Telfer, player and later coach, who claimed that “eight players in one ruck they are pure poetry in motion”. Scotland, owner, at least according to legend, of the mythical wooden spoon in a castle in the Orkney Islands. There Scotland, Italy's last opponents in the 2023 Six Nations (Saturday at 1.30pm, in Edinburgh and on SkySport1 and Tv8), but also the first in the 2000 tournament.
“A long love story – he says Massimo Giovanelli, 60 appearances for the national team, 37 of which as captain – We had already been playing against Scotland for about ten years, so much so that they became the benchmark between the accessible worlds, considering that England and France, by number of practitioners and quality of players were unreachable. My first match as captain dates back to Scotland in 1992, at Melrose, defeated 22-17, but also two victories, at Rovigo 18-15 in 1993 and at Treviso 25-21 in 1998. On 5 February 2000, at the Flaminio, where you feel the spectators on you, eyes and breaths, they were the defending champions, we were the rookies. In the locker room, even though I was no longer the team captain, I spoke to my teammates, reminding them that we were going to write history and honor the memory of all those who had gone before us, starting with the pioneers of 1929, and all those who there were more, starting with Ivan Francescato, who died in 1999. We were full of emotion and concentration. We left nothing on the field. The next day, when I woke up, I saw a black hole in my left eye: I had almost left the retina in the field as well. And it was my last game in the national team. In the third half, celebrated in a frescoed Renaissance palace, we won the competition by far. I took advantage of his moment of inattention to kick Ken Logan, the winger and footballer from Scotland, in the ass, giving him back what he had given me on another occasion. That triumphal day was supposed to be the starting point of Italian rugby, instead it became the point of arrival".
In these 23 years the difference between Scotland and Italy has widened. Giovanelli, who had supported Marzio Innocenti's candidacy for the federal presidency and who is now challenging him with the group "L'Italia del rugby", explains: "Scotland has planned and structured itself, from the bottom up, Italy he aimed from top to bottom, hoping that the successes of the national team would feed the grassroots clubs by themselves. But the successes were rare and, with the novelty waning, the fashion gone, the movement was impoverished in the fields, in the teams, in the coaches, in the players. The trend reversal, hoped for, declared, promised, has not yet taken place. And the difficulties, above all economic and from Rome downwards, are evident". The paradox is that there was also an Italian among those who contributed to Scottish growth. "Massimo Cuttitta, Italy's left-back on 5 February 2000, for six years in Scotland preached the secrets and rules, art and craft of the scrum, especially on the front line, not only within the national team, but going around the clubs . And the close scrum, which was Scotland's weak point, became one of their strengths, and the house was built on that foundation. The system then found the right balance between tradition and professionalism, which instead falters in Wales and England".
And now? “We must immediately cancel last Saturday's disappointment – says Giovanelli – when Italy's fear of winning was stronger than Wales' fear of losing. The truth is, we can't handle the pressure. And certain defeats don't always translate into lessons. Scotland is very strong in broken play, that is aggressive, dirty, guerrilla play. It will take heart, but also head. And don't waste the good things we had built and shown". Also thinking about the 2023 World Cup. “In the group we will face, in addition to the All Blacks and France, unreachable, also Namibia and Uruguay, accessible. And there we mustn't be afraid to win."