I thought this was a very well-written article, and an interesting topic to discuss. Source: Planet Rugby State of the Six Nations - Italy Tuesday March 21 2006 Italy's bright future not yet secure It is hard to get tired of the colour, enthusiasm and simple difference that Italy has brought to Europe's flagship tournament, irrespective of past results. A packed Stadio Flaminio, belting out Italy's proud and gusto-laden anthem is a sight that every top-level tournament should be blessed with. This time though, the Italians promised, and then delivered. No wins once again was the return, but they held leads over France, England, Scotland and Ireland, and fought back from 15-3 down away at Wales to grab their first ever Six Nations point on the road. Wooden spoon or not, this tournament has been a success for Pierre Berbizier. So, the future is bright in Italy. But below international level, the game in Italy seems to be fast approaching a crossroads - and help in both choosing and travelling down the right road will almost be required from sources outside of the country. Of the 22 fielded in the final game against Scotland, eight play outside of Italy. That would have been nine had Mauro Bergamasco not succumbed to injury early on in the tournament, and if the same team took to the field next year, it would be eleven, as Carlos Nieto has now joined Gloucester and Martin Castrogiovanni has gone to Leicester. It is safe to assume that over the next twelve months there will be more Italian international players heading across Europe's borders as well, with the demand for players in France higher than ever, and English big spenders also waking up to the fact that internationals are available at knock-down prices. For the players, it is an opportunity that simply cannot be refused. They will move to the best leagues and play week in, week out, with, and against, the best of the Northern Hemisphere. For Italy's national side, this is marvellous. Would Mirco Bergamasco have been player of the tournament if he was not learning alongside Juan Hernandez, Christophe Dominici, David Skrela, and AgustÃn Pichot at Stade FranÃ§ais? Imagine what the Leicester forward coaching chaps will add to Castrogiovanni. Italy's only exposure outside of their Super 10 is in the Heineken Cup, but of the two ever-present teams, Treviso have a ludicrous number of foreign players on their books, and while Calvisano do well at developing local talent, they are never strong enough to do more than limit the number of bonus points scored against them. Below that, five Italian clubs are in the European Challenge Cup, but fare no better than their countrymen in the Heineken Cup. Not a single Italian team made it to the quarter-finals this year. The Super 10 has been more competitive than most previous years this season, but Treviso are still top, as they have been for many years. Below them, there is not much competition. Attendances for league matches are poor, and the clubs have low budgets. European Cup matches provide a welcome boost, but it is nothing that a foundation could be built on. So, an exodus to more competitive and challenging shores by the top players is to be expected - John Kirwan has said that he knows of ten players in Italy's elite squad who will be moving on this year, aside from Nieto and Castrogiovanni. Kirwan, writing in the Observer last week, also said that his most pressing long-term aim had been to amalgamate Italian teams into the Celtic League, most likely as regions. The politics got in the way - including an apparent resistance from the three Celtic Nations to Italian teams joining in. That might have only been Wales, who were involved in the utterly selfish and ultimately destructive agenda of joining the Powergen Cup. The share of television audience for rugby in Italy has apparently increased threefold during the last five years, but, as with any television audience, it needs a product. The more Italy's players go to France and England, the less local passive interest will be activated. Italian sub-international rugby needs regular local, high-profile matches, and needs just one or two fresh-faced Daniel Carter-type superstars playing in these matches to get their passionate rugby public out of their shells full-time. Kirwan's interest in having Italian teams joining the Celtic League was absolutely spot on. There would be political upheavals - very much akin to those which dogged David Moffat's regionalisation of Welsh rugby - but perhaps the subsequent success of the Welsh framework, not to mention the recent rise in stature of the Scottish regions, would help make such a move less fractious. Then Italy's players would stay in Italy and play for Italian teams. Then the game would have a chance to develop in a new country. Then Italian clubs would be more competitive in Europe. Then, the foreign-based Italian players might return. Then the Celtic League would get some badly-needed colour, and perhaps even a sponsor. Then the Italian clubs - and their Union - would get an injection of cash. And so it goes on. So, on the back of the Six Nations success of 2006, Italian rugby is approaching a crossroads. It is up to both the FIR to make the courageous decision to go forward down the road that the Welsh and Scottish went down, and it is even more up to the Celtic Nations, as entrenched members of the international rugby community, to move the subsequent roadblocks and welcome these courageous Azzurri onto their private pathway. Not just for the good of Italian rugby, but for the good of the Celtic League, the Heineken Cup, and for the good of the world game. By Danny Stephens I personally find that it's great that Italy is doing so well on the international stage. but the article raises an interesting point that without a good home-based domestic league, the sport will not actually grow very well in Italy itself.