Double Rugby League European Shield winners Italy have been rewarded for their rapid strides at international level by being included in this autumn’s European Cup, after the withdrawal of Russia.
The Italians, who defeated Germany and the Czech Republic to retain the Shield in July will now play host to Scotland on 17th October in Padua or Monselice and will make an historic journey to Beirut to face Lebanon the following week.
Russia has reluctantly stood down as their Board is currently going through a re-structuring process and it has not been possible to secure the necessary finances to take part in this year’s European showdown.
Sasha Denisov, spokesperson for Russian Rugby League advised that, “The RRL is sorry for the disruption caused to the tournament, sponsors and to the other competing nations but we had tried all avenues to gain the necessary support to ensure participation in this year’s event.”
“However, the re-structuring has come at a difficult time for the economy in Russia, which has resulted in this decision to withdraw.”
Rugby League European Federation Executive and Development Officer Kevin Rudd, who is the European Cup Tournament Director said, ““We will be working with the Russian Rugby League all we can during this important period in their history and we anticipate that the re-vamp they are undergoing will enable them to be more robust in the future, with exciting things in the pipeline for Russian Rugby League.”
Italy’s participation rekindles the heady days of the 1950s when they toured England in 1950 and again four years later while setting up a vibrant domestic competition in Turin, Milan, Treviso, Venice and other cities.
The touring Kangaroos of 1959/60 played two Tests on Italian soil on their return home on consecutive days, winning both in Padua and Treviso, in front of crowds of around 3,500.
Commenting on their promotion, Italian RL President Tiziano Franchini said, “It is fantastic news, we have worked hard for this possibility and we look forward to testing ourselves in the competition.”
“We know it will be tough but we have strong links with Italian players of calibre in England, Australia and in the French competition and I am sure our squad will do the nation proud. We will tap into some expertise in Australia where there is a proud tradition of Italian involvement in the sport and the experience will be vital for the players based in Italy to learn from.”
Rudd added, “That Italy can step up and replace Russia shows the importance of developing tiers of international competition and a definable structure. That looks set to be further enhanced in 2010 with possibilities to expand the European Shield and Bowl tournaments in addition to the European Cup next year, the winner of which will face England, Australia and New Zealand in the Four Nations, back here in 2011.”