THE Italian-Scottish Challenge has been “suspended” by the Federation of Italian Rugby (FIR) after just one season, partly because of budget concerns and partly because “technical” results were not as expected, according to an official document produced by the FIR after a board meeting last Friday.
This will come as a blow to those who had hoped that the cross-border competition could be developed so as to play an important role in raising standards at the top end of the club game in Scotland, with the ultimate aim of closing the gap on the full-time professional tier.
When rumours of this initiative first emerged from Italy in March 2016, it was suggested that the competition could involve multiple teams from each country playing over as many as six weekends throughout the season. In the end, a slimmed down version saw Heriot’s [as reigning BT Premiership champions] play an ‘Italy Emerging XV’ over two legs last November, losing the first tie 50-33 in Biella and the return match 15-43 at Goldenacre a week later.
SRU chief executive Mark Dodson spoke enthusiastically about the new competition when it was officially unveiled.
“The Italian-Scottish Challenge provides an opportunity for the defending BT Premiership champions, Heriot’s, to develop their experience of cross-border competition against an emerging Italian team,” he said.
“We are looking forward to working closely with the FIR to deliver the Italian-Scottish Challenge as we look to grow the exposure of Scotland’s premier club game to a high level of competition. It is a great opportunity for Heriot’s to develop and test their players against a strong Italian side.”
It now appears that the close working relationship which Dodson had anticipated did not extend to the FIR discussing this most recent development with their Scottish counterparts.
A spokesman for the SRU stated that: “We are unaware of this. Therefore, we have no comment.”