Last week, After 36 consecutive Six Nations match defeats, the Italian rugby team beat Wales 22-21 with a spectacular last-minute break by ‘elfin’ Capuozzo, reaffirming their place in the annual competition, sports sources said. It was also the first time Italy had beaten Wales in Cardiff in history.

Italian players and supporters were ecstatic after the final whistle blew in Principality Stadium on Saturday. After seven years of not winning a single Six Nations match, with many debating why they were still competing, the Azzurri finally proved that they deserve to play against Europe’s top rugby nations.

The moment of victory happened at 77 minutes in, when the 71 k.g. Ange Capuozzo skillfully evaded two Welsh tackles and sped towards the try line before an intelligent pass to Edoardo Padovani, who scored the try behind the goalposts, making for easy conversion. With the score at 20-21 to Wales, the conversion was crucial to breaking their string of defeats.

Fly-half Paolo Garbisi quickly booted the ball through the centre of the posts before spinning and falling to the ground with emotion, and his teammates piled on top of him.

“There is nothing accidental about today’s victory,” said Italy’s captain, Michele “Mitch” Lamaro. “Everyone did their individual work very well, putting it at the service of the team, and this has finally paid off.”

The Azzurri’s coach, Kiwi Kieran Crowley, said, “we are very happy, and I am very happy for these guys, who really deserved it. However, this victory must not be so surprising, although obviously very important: this group worked a lot and with absolute dedication throughout the tournament.”

On a rise

The day after that historic win at the Principality Stadium, Italy’s under-20s ran in four tries in a convincing 27-20 win over the Welsh, their third win in that age group’s Six Nations after also beating Scotland and England.

The under-20s’ displays are no fluke, as the under-18s have also been racking up wins against the northern hemisphere’s big boys in recent years.

Around 120 of Italy’s most talented under-18 and under-19 players train at four national centres run by the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) in Milan, Rome, Treviso and Prato, which then feed their best to a single national academy for the under-20s.

Milan’s is hosted at the Istituto Leone XIII, a private school located on the edge of the city’s well-heeled City Life district.

The players stay there Monday to Thursday, going to school either on-site or elsewhere in Milan before training in the afternoon on the school’s rugby and football pitches, which they share with the regular primary and secondary pupils.

“We need to find a way to help our boys study, train, eat, sleep and have quality social time in the most economically sustainable way possible,” the FIR’s technical director Daniele Pacini said.

The centres, which have been in place since 2016 and each cost the FIR around 400,000 euros a year, offer differing environments.