Former England captain Andy Vilk is now in Italy. After a playing career with Treviso he is now coach of Italy 7s and each month gives his insight into the game and life in Italia!
What a great month for rugby sevens; Fiji dominated in Hong Kong (as they have in the last 5 of 6 tournaments held there), the big guns fell early in Singapore to give us a cracking result for the Canucks, Spain and Japan qualified for men’s and women’s World Series’ respectively, and, New Zealand women’s team took a ten point lead at the top of the World Series.
Spain’s promotion, and their performance in particular, was enormously interesting for us after our training camp with them as part of their final preparations for HK. Whilst for nine of our boys it was their first competitive sevens since July last year and three were making their debuts, we went to Madrid with a competitive squad. Or so we thought - we struggled day one against a very efficient Spanish team; dominant at kick of time, ruthless in attack and shrewd in defence.
Day 2, we were much more competitive. We shared the honours in the three ‘knock-out’ games that day but more importantly we held them to just sevens tries in those three games and managed to score six of our own. Considering the Spanish scored an impressive 164 points in six matches at the Hong Kong qualifier (Fiji scored 154 on their way to the main title), only conceding 24 points in the whole tournament (Fiji 55), it was quite the positive result.
Before we start patting ourselves on the back we need to be realistic. Whilst this was a ‘serious-friendly’, Spain have then gone on and done the business on the global stage and they know how to turn it on when it really counts like they did in Monaco last year with their last minute Olympic heroics. We, however, still need to prove ourselves on the European, let alone World stage; so how do we prepare to do this?
Frist, lets talk about another of the things I love about living in Italy, the coffee. I literally didn’t drink coffee before I came to live in il bel paese and could not understand what the fuss was about. Then it happened: my first shot of Italian expresso.
I still remember it clearly – my wife and I had just been to lunch with the Benetton Treviso Director of Rugby who then took us on to his favourite café. We obligingly had a shot of the thick dark liquid out of politeness… the next couple of hours flat hunting passed in caffeine induced efficiency where we were convinced we could understand the lingo fluently and our hand gestures were involuntarily Italian.
Fast forward ten years and it is firmly ingrained in the daily routine. Last week we were in camp in Parma and after every meal it was off to the bar with the staff to have the ritual coffee. Now it might not be unusual that all six of us (Coach, Assistant Coach x 2, S&C Coach, Physio and Psychologist) had different orders but the difference between them is absurd.
A ristretto, liscio and lungo may effectively be a small, medium and large but the difference between one size and the next is probably less than 5ml. Though that 5ml is the same difference between being seen wearing this season’s or, God forbid, last season’s Gucci loafers.
Anyway back to the grand plan: we are off to both the Dublin 7s and Amsterdam 7s in May. We are also due to have a hit out with some local club sides in the upcoming weeks, all in the search of much needed game time. Relatively very little sevens is played in Italy and as a consequence players have limited game experience.
That said there is real encouraging growth in the movement here, tournaments from the U14, U16 and U18 level are beginning to take root and at the senior level organisers are expressing a real interest in raising the level of their tournaments with foreign teams being welcomed with arms wide open! Tournaments in Verona, Milan and Rome are just some of the cracking locations for teams to visit in Italy.
Hoping to see you and your team for a caffé here soon,
Ciao e grazie,