The Round 20 Guinness PRO14 fixture between Zebre Rugby Club and Dragons will be held in the Fattori Stadium in L’Aquila on April 14, 2018 and will mark the first time a Championship game will be played in central Italy.
The federal franchise Zebre Rugby Club, despite claiming Parma as its formal home ground, also looks to encompass the entire national territory. The trip to L’Aquila for this special event therefore falls within the aim of Zebre Rugby to maintain a strong link with those places where the love for the game is particularly strong.
Zebre Rugby Club CEO, Andrea Dalledonne, spoke about how this project was born: “Back in September we wanted to rethink the role of the franchise in Italy. The first thing that came to mind was to think of our team as representative of all of Italy, not just the North-West area. So we thought about what could be an important host city for a special event and we immediately thought of L’Aquila, for its history, rugby tradition and for what happened in the city with the earthquake in 2009. I would like it to become an event which could be repeatable every season”.
Martin Anayi, CEO of PRO14 Rugby, said: “It is very exciting to see Zebre Rugby Club take their Guinness PRO14 fixture with Dragons to L’Aquila to help benefit those affected by the earthquake in 2009. There is a great energy among Italian rugby at the club level right now and the exciting style of play that Head Coach Michael Bradley has implemented has made Zebre a very entertaining team to watch. Over the history of our Championship we’ve seen many of our clubs take their fixtures to new communities and this can only help to create more excitement around rugby in Italy.”
The game will be played for the first time in central Italy in L’Aquila, a city of 70,000 inhabitants, located 100 km from Rome. As the capital city of the Abruzzo Region, L’Aquila has a long and glorious tradition in the Italian rugby scene. Rugby has been at the heart of the people of L’Aquila since the ’30s, and the home team has won the Italian championship five times, the last time being in 1994.
L’Aquila lives and breathes rugby and has turned out many great players who have contributed to the history of Italian rugby, for example, Maurizio Zaffiri, Carlo Festuccia and Andrea Masi being worthy of mention, having played in the Six Nations Championship.
Champions such as Andrea Lo Cicero and Salvatore Perugini have worn the black and green jersey of the home team. The captain of Italy Sergio Parisse – 131 caps for the national team – also has family in L’Aquila, his parents were born there. His father Sergio senior played there and won a championship while playing for L’Aquila.
Pierluigi Biondi, mayor of L’Aquila: “The rebirth of our city also passes through sport. Rugby for us is a metaphor of the ability of a community to react after difficult moments like the earthquake of 2009. This city and this territory can be compact like a rugby team.”
The Tommaso Fattori stadium has hosted 16 international games of the Italian national team as well as the Womens’ Rugby Six Nations 2017 game between Italy and Ireland. The L’Aquila stadium – named after the former Italian national coach – will be the fifth Italian stadium to host a Guinness PRO14 match, after Parma, Reggio Emilia, Treviso and Viadana (MN).
It will be the second time that Zebre – a federal franchise based in Parma – will not play their home game in Lanfranchi Stadium; the first was the match against Leinster that was played in Reggio Emilia in April 2013, with the aim of raising funds for the victims of the earthquake that hit Emilia Romagna, and now Zebre will play in Abruzzo for the first time.
Salvatore Perugini, vice-president of the Italian Rugby Union: “For FIR it’s an honor to be able to see an international game held in L’Aquila. The city is represented in the oval world by a club that has become known and important precisely for having carried forward the sports principles of rugby over the years.”
April 14 will therefore be a historic day for the Rugby community of L’Aquila. Once again rugby will colour the streets of the city, celebrating a double challenge that will also represent a moment of solidarity and the pride of Abruzzo. The match will take place a few days after the ninth anniversary of the terrible earthquake that hit the city on April 6, 2009.
The L’Aquila rugby players were deeply affected by the tragic death of their teammate Lorenzo Sebastiani. L’Aquila Rugby was at the forefront of rescue operations, helping the local population and was awarded the “Spirit of Rugby” special award by the World Rugby international federation.
The games will start at 14:30 (13:30 UK) with the local Aquila Rugby Club playing against CUS Genova, leader of the promotion pool of the Italian national Serie A championship. At 17:00 (16:00UK time) Tommaso Castello and his teammates will take on the Welsh Dragons, the franchise from eastern Wales, who have lost the last three games played in Italy between the two teams.
The game at the Fattori Stadium will have a special meaning for two of the Zebre players, as they hail from Abruzzo : scrum-half Riccardo Raffaele (1996) from L’Aquila and wing Giovanbattista Venditti (1990), born and raised (in terms of rugby) in Avezzano (AQ), a town 40 km from L’Aquila.