UCS Old Boys’ ex-Italy international holds little hope for Azzurri at Rugby World Cup
PUBLISHED: 13:22 19 September 2015 | UPDATED: 13:26 19 September 2015
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Former Italy international Marco Rivaro holds little hope for his nation as they kick off their Rugby World Cup campaign against France tonight (Saturday), stating the Azzurri go into the tournament “in the worst condition ever”.
Rivaro, 42, who lives in West Hampstead and has recently joined UCS Old Boys with a view to playing for their veterans side, earned four caps for his national team.
He played at centre in the first ever Six Nations match as Italy beat Scotland in Rome in February 2000, and he went on to face Wales and Ireland in that year’s competition before a final appearance against England at Twickenham in the 2001 edition.
Rivaro will be back at Twickenham this evening to watch the Azzurri’s opening group match against France – which he believes will be the decisive clash for his coutrymen – but he concedes he has little hope that Jacques Brunel’s side will qualify for the knockout stages for the first time.
“Unfortunately I think Italy are in the worst condition ever,” he said. “Our team has really touched the bottom. We lost 48-7 to Scotland in a warm-up game - our worst ever loss against Scotland.
“This is due to a number of reasons – mainly the recession in Italy, which meant a lot of clubs didn’t have enough funding to pay players enough, so they had to leave Italy.
“A lot of players have come to the UK or France so it’s very difficult for the coach to have a lot of sessions with his players.
“Unfortunately the old Italian Federation is still in the hands of amateurs, so there is no long-term view of how to run a professional game. We achieved very good results in the late 90s but since then, since we joined the Six Nations, the management of rugby in Italy hasn’t moved forward into the professional era. It’s still managed really badly by a bunch of amateurs.
“All Italians would have loved to see Italy winning more games but unfortunately in spite of the fact that we still have some fantastic players - especially in the scrum - we haven’t achieved as much as we would have loved.
“Clearly, another big problem we have had since we lost Diego Dominguez [in 2003] is that we never managed to find another decent fly-half. That’s another vast problem for a team which doesn’t have massive talents, especially out wide. If you don’t have a great kicker who’s very precise from penalties, it’s very difficult to win games.”
Rivaro went on: “Unfortunately for Italy it will be very difficult to pass our pool because we’re playing against France and Ireland.
“Ireland are potentially one of those teams who could have a sniff at the final and France, I saw them playing against England and it seems Phillipe Saint-Andre has finally been able to find the right team to play at a World Cup. They hammered England’s pack recently.
“Of course, despite all the odds, if you can get the French on a bad day, something might happen. We still have fantastic players like [Sergio] Parisse and [Martin] Castrogiovanni, so clearly I’ll be at Twickenham on the 19th supporting my boys and hoping something crazy might happen with the French.
“I don’t think we have any chance with Ireland but for us our final is against France. I’m also going to the Ireland game [at the Olympic stadium on October 4] and then pretty much every single weekend I’m going to be watching games in London, so I’m looking forward to the World Cup very much.”
It has been more than 14 years since Rivaro represented his country, but one of his former team-mates is still going strong – Mauro Bergamasco has been named in Italy’s 31-man squad, with the 36-year-old flanker preparing for his fifth World Cup.
“I was with him in 2000,” said Rivaro. “He’s a great friend of mine and it’s a fantastic achievement for him to manage to play in his fifth World Cup. Actually the great achievement for him is that, despite his age, he was the fittest of the latest pack for the Azzurri - out of all the players he was by far the fittest one on the pitch.
“Not only is he seriously a great guy but also a very hard-working professional so it’s a great achievement for him and I think it’s a great thing for the Italian Federation to still have him representing Italian rugby.”
Rivaro’s own story is a fascinating one. Born in Genoa, he moved to London in 1999 to study for a Masters in Business and Finance and ended up having a successful trial with London Irish and signing for the Premiership club before being scouted by Italy’s Kiwi coach Brad Johnstone in 1999.
“Just by accident I found myself on the bench for the first ever game of the Six Nations between Italy and Scotland in Rome,” said Rivaro.
“I came on after 45 minutes and I had an incredible game, to the point where I was scouted by Cambridge University Rugby Club. They found out I already had two degrees so they contacted me to see whether I wanted to have yet another degree, and also to have the Cambridge University logo on my CV.
“It was a fantastic opportunity so I decided to take it and that’s why my international career was cut very short, because at the time I moved from a Premiership division team into a university side. I only had four caps between 2000 and 2001.
“To be honest it wasn’t really a difficult decision. I was 27 at the time, I had already enjoyed my rugby and I was more looking forward to a career in finance.
“I think in the end it was a good decision. Cambridge was a fantastic life experience, I met some fantastic people so I’m really pleased that I took that route.”
Rivaro now works in finance in the city but has just joined UCS Old Boys, who are based off Ranulf Road in West Hampstead, to keep his eye in.
“I’m just there trying to keep fit and play some games for the veterans side,” he said. “I’m very busy with work - I travel a lot - so I couldn’t commit at the moment to the first team, and I’m too old. But every now and then a game for the veterans could be a good option.
“It was a very easy choice for me to join a lovely club with such great facilities and a great bunch of people. It’s a lovely part of the world, I have to say.”