Stream of Ital­ian Pu­mas has run dry... but for how long?

The Rugby Paper - - Views - BREN­DAN GAL­LAGHER

ITALY play their blood broth­ers Ar­gentina next week and un­usu­ally, in re­cent decades any­way, they don’t have an Ar­genti­nan in their ranks.

I dis­count skip­per Ser­gio Parisse who al­though born in Buenos Aires was the son of Ital­ian par­ents – dad cap­tained L’Aquila to an Ital­ian league ti­tle – and the fam­ily just hap­pened to be sta­tioned over­seas at the time of his ar­rival.

Parisse is no more Ar­gen­tinian than Ro­nan O’Gara is Amer­i­can, Paul Ack­ford is Ger­man or Jamie Heaslip is an Is­raeli. But that link with Ar­gentina has been very real in mod­ern times.

It arose be­cause al­though we think of Ar­gentina as Span­ish cul­tur­ally, 60 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion now have Ital­ian roots and sec­ond, all the time Ar­gen­tinian rugby stayed strictly am­a­teur there was a strong temp­ta­tion for those want­ing to make a liv­ing from the game to use their Ital­ian qual­i­fi­ca­tion. There are mod­ern day Pu­mas such as To­mas Cubelli and Matta Ale­manno who were well qual­i­fied for Italy had they cho­sen that route.

Diego Dominguez, from Cordoba, but with an Ital­ian grand­mother, was the piv­otal fig­ure in all this hav­ing ac­tu­ally played for Ar­gentina in two Tests in 1989 be­fore he switched al­le­giance, as was per­mit­ted by the IRB back then.

Dominguez was world class and ab­so­lutely the key man in the rise and rise of Ital­ian rugby in the 90s which cul­mi­nated in his MOM per­for­mance in Rome in 2000 when Italy beat the reign­ing cham­pi­ons Scot­land in their first ever Six Na­tions match. A record of 983 points in 74 Tests tells its own story, he re­morse­lessly con­verted the pres­sure of those big Ital­ian for­wards into points, he gave shape to an in­ex­pe­ri­enced back di­vi­sion.

But there were oth­ers. A young Martin Cas­tro­gio­vanni also ven­tured across the At­lantic to join Tre­viso at the very start of a ca­reer that re­sulted in 119 caps. Al­though he pos­si­bly pro­longed his play­ing days a sea­son or two more than was ideal there was a pe­riod when Cas­tro was among the world’s best props. And big­gest char­ac­ters.

A tro­jan who of­ten gets over­looked but was al­ways highly rated by those tan­gling with him was lock San­ti­ago De­lappe. It’s dif­fi­cult to re­mem­ber any­body ever de­priv­ing De­lappe of his line-out ball where he demon­strated a bas­ket­ball player’s hands.

An­other mighty ser­vant was hard man cen­tre Gon­zalo Canale who, de­spite var­i­ous in­juries, won 86 caps. Canale was ex­tremely pow­er­ful in bust­ing through the first tackle, a yard more pace and he would have been a world beater, as it was he served Italy very well in­deed.

And then there were the near misses as Italy went in search of a sec­ond Dominguez. Ramiro Pez and Lu­ciano Or­querra – also from Cordoba – suf­fered by their con­stant com­par­i­son with the ge­nius of Dominguez – who wouldn’t? – but both had their mo­ments.

Pez fin­ished with 260 points in 40 Tests which is de­cent but with his con­fi­dence low ul­ti­mately made too many poor de­ci­sions at im­por­tant times. Or­querra was a vastly underrated at­tack­ing player with a mata­dor’s flour­ish who some of the more pedes­trian Ital­ian backs strug­gled to read but his de­fen­sive frail­ties left him too ex­posed.

And now the tap seems to have been turned off. Or has it? Un­less Ar­gentina are granted the sec­ond Su­per Rugby fran­chise they have been promised the num­ber of tal­ented Ar­gen­tini­ans want­ing to play pro­fes­sional rugby over­seas will grow and grow. And many of those will be em­i­nently Ital­ian qual­i­fied which will side­step any stricter res­i­dency is­sues. Watch this space.

Ge­nius: Diego Dominguez

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