‘He doesn’t even look like a rugby player’: Italian press heralds new hero Capuozzo

Fullback’s try-making break dominates the headlines as Italians celebrate historic win

"Maradona? No, Capuozzo. And he doesn't even look like a rugby player." If this La Gazzetta dello Sport headline is anything to go by, Italian rugby has a new baby-faced hero. Step forward Ange Capuozzo.

La Gazzetta has a point, to be fair. Coming in at 71 kilos and a hair over 5'8", the 22-year-old fullback- who looks about 15, if that - secured a double victory for the little guy on Saturday afternoon in Cardiff. Not only did his late break that set up a try show the best skills of diminutive, hot-stepping rugby players, but he also ensured that Italy shocked Wales 21-22 with the last play of the game. It was the Azzurri's first Six Nations victory in 37 attempts.

It was also just Capuozzo’s second cap after making his debut last week against Scotland.

Why the comparison between an Italian rugby player and Argentina’s Maradona, you might ask? Francesco Palma in that La Gazzetta piece gives us some background on Capuozzo that might explain. “He (Capuozzo) weighs only 71 kilos, has a good face, was born in Grenoble but has a grandfather from Naples. And he proposed himself to the Azzurri.”

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Maradona of course plied his trade for Napoli at one point; a tenuous connection, but let’s cut the deliriously happy Italians some slack. If Mikey Lowry had just won Ireland a game for the first time in seven years, he could be the next Pelé for all we care.

Palma goes on to give what was the most dramatic ending possible at the Principality Stadium a cinematic description. “Seventy-eight minutes on the clock, just under two until the end.” Picture well and truly painted.

“The spectre of yet another honourable defeat appears in the stands of Cardiff and on the sofas of the Italian fans, combining the pride of a high-level performance with regrets for what could have been, yet was not. A film already seen and reviewed, which just before the end credits, surprises us with an unexpected ending.”

In Corriere Della Serra, Domenico Calcagno offers a more detailed look at that match-winning Capuozzo break. “The 22-year-old boy from Grenoble, where his grandfather landed after leaving Naples in the ‘40s, black hair and just 71 kilos, collects the ball 60m from the goal-line and runs.

“He avoids the first tackle, smoothly rounds a prop, sits down a third Welshman with a sidestep, dancing down the right sideline. Ange could try to shoot straight but sees Padovani on the left, passes him the ball and the miracle is accomplished.”

The Italian press have been waiting seven years to write a report on a Six Nations win. The wait has not diminished their ability to tell a story.

Of course, with all the attention going to Capuozzo, it is easy to forget that outhalf Paolo Garbisi still had to slot the conversion to secure the result. Given its significance, it's safe to say that kick will be the hardest conversion from straight in front of the posts the young '10' will ever have to take.

As Massimo Calandri in la Repubblica puts it: “His football weighs a ton: the oval passes between the posts, it is not possible but still, yes, the Azzurri outhalf falls to the ground and bursts into tears.”

Corriere’s Calcagno goes on to look at the match-winning improvements Italy made to their performance as a whole. “Cardiff was a different Italy” he explains. “All substance and wickedness. Attention in defence and no gambles, no useless passes.

“A lot of extra kicking, and few mistakes because they took fewer risks than usual. It is rugby that the Azzuri have to play: sacrifice and discipline. All the penalties were kicked between the posts, not to a lineout in the corner.

In La Stampa, Stefano Semeraro highlights a poignant moment at the end of the contest when Josh Adams handed over his player of the match medal to Italy’s Capuozzo.

“It only happens in rugby” says Semeraro. “The award is decided towards the end of the game, and at that stage, Adams had scored the try that seemed to settle the contest.

“However, the invention of Capuozzo, a jewel, convinced the Welsh wing to make a gesture as noble as it is unusual in other sports.”

The last word goes to Calcagno who attempts to figure out what this desperately-needed victory means for the previously never-ending debate on Italy’s Six Nations future. “It is difficult to say now if anything was born in Cardiff” he admits. “The group is young and a victory like the one on Saturday can change many things. In the mind, above all places.

“Time will tell, but for now let’s enjoy a success that will suspend the debate on ‘What is Italy going to do in the Six Nations?’ A success that had been missing for too long, since February 28th 2015, when Italy last beat Scotland.”