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Magners League: Italians’ class puts them in a different league entirely

By Niall Crozier

There won’t be too many occasions in the course of the Magners League season that Brian McLaughlin, Jeremy Davidson, Neil Doak et al hold their pre-match mid-morning meeting sitting beneath a canopy to shade them from the intensity of the sun shining from a cloudless blue sky.

Welcome to Parma.

The Italians’ inclusion in the competition threatens to put the likes of Swansea, Newport and Llanelli in the shade. Let’s face it, there’s unlikely to be much need for canopies there. Umbrellas, yes. Duffle coats, yes. Pasties, yes. Pasta, no. Canopies? Don’t be stupid.

A stone’s throw from the Grand Hotel de la Ville there’s a 16-jet fountain — eight on either side of a rectangle aimed towards one another and forming an octet of aquatic arches. Leave it to the Italians. Touches of class everywhere. A few hundred yards away, the Piazza Garibaldi oozes sophistication. They dress so stylishly, look so good, are so perfectly groomed and manicured.

Truth? No way we Celts — the Irish, Scots or Welsh — can compete with any of this. Off the pitch at any rate, but we’re here for a rugby match, though you have to work hard to remind yourself of that at moments.

Like when another of those stunning, model-bodied women slides past in skin-tight white trousers which must have required surgery to don. Elena, our Italian guide, tells us that this is out of season and that there will be a great many more beautiful young women when the students return after their summer vacation to resume their studies.

More? Than this? Already there are thousands. How do Italian men cope with this?

I’ve just encountered a trio of Ulster supporters who, no harm to them, don’t look anything like as jet-set as the indigenous population, this despite the fact that they have jetted in to offer McLaughlin’s men their vocal backing.

Messrs Bob Penney, Philip McMurtry (both of Larne RFC infamy) and Jim Galbraith (City of Derry) are veterans of many such trips.

We sit in sunny Piazza Garibaldi, sipping coffee and talking rugby selections, players, tactics.

We move on through the spotless, fascinating streets, mindful that every passing minute takes us closer to kick-off and a 25km trip out to Stadio Zaffanella for a pre-match rendezvous with some new Italian friends.

At the beautiful little stadium in Viadana we encounter Aironi coach, Franco Bernini, out chatting with others enjoying a beer al fresco 90 minutes before kick-off.

What next? McLaughlin in The Scoop for a bit of banter and a pint before Ulster play Edinburgh on Friday night?

Probably not. Brian’s not an Italian. If he was he could do it, look great whilst doing it — and get away with it. That’s class.

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