Castrogiovanni remembers ‘beautiful battles’ with Ireland

Former tighthead prop believes Italy need to stick with a philosophy and stop changing

Martin Castrogiovanni no longer has to negotiate with a life dominated by rugby. It's been that way since he won the last of 119 caps for Italy in a Six Nations Championship match against Wales in 2016, some 14 years after a debut against New Zealand in 2002.

He was for much of that time one of the best and most feared tighthead props in world rugby, his reputation in the Test arena supplemented by a successful seven year spell with the Leicester Tigers, accumulating silverware both on a personal level and as part of a team that won multiple English Premierships.

He owned a share in a café in Leicester, along with his good friend Geordan Murphy, an Italian restaurant in Toulon, another stopping off point in his club career, and now lives in the Trastevere neighbourhood in Rome. The 38-year-old has appeared on the Italian version of Dancing with the Stars and earlier this year got married.

His relationship with rugby is casual these days. He runs the Castro Rugby camp for two weeks every July, catering for 300 children for six to 15 years of age, but other than that he is a largely detached observer. When he arrived in Italy from Argentina as a 19-year-old prospect he invested everything in becoming the best player he could until he stepped off the rugby carousel.


Next weekend Ireland will host Italy at the Aviva stadium in the rescheduled Six Nations match. Despite losing all 13 matches in his career against Ireland - he missed the match that Italy won – he describes those games "as a beautiful battle," because of the intensively physical nature of the confrontations before recounting his favourite story.

Castrogiovanni, speaking at a launch of the Guinness x BuJo Rugby at Home Kit, explained: "When John Kirwan was the coach, in the first game(that we played Ireland) we tried to put them under pressure in the scrum. John came up with the idea that from the kickoff, we would kick the ball, catch it and then a scrum would be awarded. We thought this would be ideal to put them under pressure straight away.

"First scrum, down, second scrum, down again, third scrum, penalty against me; that's how we started the game. We lost. In Ireland games it was always a physical battle because they wanted to put us under pressure in the forwards." He singled out former Leinster and Ireland loosehead prop Reggie Corrigan as a formidable opponent.

Chopping and changing

Looking at the current Italian team and coaching cadre he believes that they should be given time, at least eight years under the coach, and not indulge in constant chopping and changing. He pointed to the fact that when he started Italy didn’t win a championship game for “five or six years” and that the players should be supported by long term planning with an emphasis on increasing the depth of quality.

He accepted that Italian teams had traditional qualities, one of which was the scrum but argued that it was less of a factor these days. “I don’t think the refs want to scrum anymore. I don’t think it’s something you use too much now. The only thing you can do is get a penalty.

“When I used to play, you could put teams down psychologically in the scrum. Now you cannot do that anymore. Maybe you can do that (from) five metres (out from the try line) but how many five-metre scrums do you get in a game? The refs don’t want that now because they go straight to the penalty. I don’t believe it can be a big part of the game now.”

He argued that the future of Italian rugby is based on patience in supporting a coach and players and allowing them time to bed in, broadening the base in terms of quality and modernising the playing style while retaining traditional strengths.