La Divina Commedia
Twelve months ago I asked: "Do Italy have any other role in the Six Nations apart from inducing sleep?" They do - beating Scotland.
Not surprisingly, I was reminded of my past musings on the Italian national team following L'Azzurri's 16-12 win over Scotland last week.
A year ago, the Scots had won the corresponding fixture which showed no inclination to attack from the Italians who conveyed the firm impression that keeping the score down was their prime objective.
I still stand by every word I said as quite frankly, Italy contributed very little to last year's tournament and there was genuine cause for wonder if they ever would build upon previous signs of progress.
Something has clearly changed. Yes their tactics have once again been catennaccio-esque but this time, like its footballing counterparts, there is a hint of menace in the air as they wait for the moment when an opponent drops their guard.
In short, Italy at last pose a threat. It's not pretty but at least one can at last look forward to a game knowing L'Azzurri's tail is coiled and ready to sting if the opposition don't kill them off.
Scotland had the bulk of the game but looked as if they expected the Italians to buckle thus failing to break them down.
Italy for their part defended with new-found gusto yet still the Scots plodded along expecting their hosts to crumble in the light of all the pressure they were applying.
Crass unprofessionalism at its worst and sure enough, Italy made us pay for faffing about like Dumbo on rollerskates.
We became too casual in our own defence and once a gap was left exposed, Italy let us have the full gun for the game's only try.
"But we had all the pressure" said many a Scotland fan. And how many tries did this grand siege produce? Zilch. Zero. Nothing. Again!
The two scores against Wales aside, in recent times you would have felt more confident of all the rabbits in Watership Down making it across the road than Scotland scoring a try.
The boot of Chris Paterson and Dan Parks can only take you so far. Yes they can kick over the penalties and fire over the odd drop-goal but to be successful you need to score tries. Check the video footage of the 1984 and 1990 grandslams. All the games involve us scoring tries - end result being two of our greatest campaigns.
Even our last title win in 1999 - who were that tournament's top try-scorers again? Scotland. It is not rocket science yet some of the players when entering the opposing 22 act as if they've been asked to complete a Rubik's cube in the next 10 seconds.
The Italy defeat was bad but what was worse was the fact we received advanced warning as to what to expect. England were in Rome a fortnight before us and received a fright as Italy's new-found competitive streak almost pulled off a shock result.
Yet because we were unlucky to lose in Cardiff after playing so well for 70 minutes, we gave the impression that this would be a sure banker? England beat Italy because they had to dig deep. We left our shovels at home.
Then comes the crowning glory (or irony so to speak). Italy have long been lobbying for two teams to enter the Magners League. The Irish and Welsh appear to be in favour of helping an emerging rugby nation realise its potential. Guess who doesn't? Scotland.
News emerged at the time of writing of our Celtic cousins set to boot us out of the League if we don't let the Italians in.
Whatever stunt the SRU were hoping to achieve, just stop it lest we really become a laughing stock. Why, some would even think an ulterior motive of 'don't-let-Italy-in-cos-they-might-really-give-us-a-proper-gubbing' exists. We don't think so.......... (at least we hope not).
There are 30,000 folk playing the game in Scotland - 80,000 in Italy with their federation looking to expand the game further with Milan & Lombardy being groomed as a new hotbed for the game. As for ourselves, it's as we were - although we do appreciate the debt around the SRU's neck is a hinderance.
However, to try and nullify another nation's progress because it may overtake your own is somewhat counter-productive - especially when the nation concerned is Italy.
A significant number of Scots have as their ancestral backgrounds as being from........ Italy. Now, try convincing a Scottish schoolkid with Italian roots as to why he should take up rugby and hopefully be good enough to play for Scotland, when you've just told his old country's Magners league application to go and vaf......o!
'Get stuffed' might well be the reply. Or, he might play and serve a very cold dish of revenge when come adulthood (assuming he's good enough) he chooses to exploit the grandparent rule and declare himself for Italy.
After all, many nations have benefited from Italian emigres. England with Lawrence Dallaglio and more famously, Australia with David Campese. Other sports have filled their boots with second and third generation Italians - France's greatest ever footballer Michel Platini being one example.
The potential risks of alienating a section of the Scottish populace are not to be under-estimated. After all, if we see an Italian player with a broad Glasgow or Edinburgh accent scoring the winning try against us there will be the inevitable question as to how we let this one slip the net.
One such answer would be that back in 2010 when Italy applied to join the Magners League, we told them to andare via!
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