ROME (Reuters) - Nearly 400 former Italy rugby internationals were awarded official caps before the Azzurri kicked off their Six Nations campaign against France on Sunday.
The former players were given the honour in a ceremony at the Olympic Stadium, alongside descendents of those who have died since representing the national team, and were later being taken to the side of the pitch to join in singing the national anthem before the 1500 GMT kick off.
The official cap of the Italian team, introduced before last year’s tour of Latin and North America, was given to 385 players at the ceremony, more than half of the 627 players who have appeared for Italy between 1929 and last November.
Among them was 61-year-old Luciano Modonesi, who represented Italy 17 times between 1966 and 1975.
His father Alberto played as scrum half in Italy’s first test match, a 9-3 loss against Spain in Barcelona in 1929, and Modonesi collected a cap for himself and one for his late father.
”He had a great passion for the shirt, which we kept at home,“ said Luciano, a former winger. ”It’s a shirt without any sleeves because during the war I was two years old and in need of socks and my dad was at war in Albania. So they cut the sleeves off the shirt and stitched them up to be big socks for me.
“The shirt that he had on his back I had on my feet - maybe that’s why I ended up playing as long as I did.”
Modonesi junior grew up to be a rugby fan and played the game for 25 years, despite the fact that his international scrum-half father never spoke about the sport.
”My dad never once spoke about that (Spain) match, and never once in my years of playing did he ever say ‘you played well’, or ‘you played badly’.
“If he were here today he would be moved (by the cap), but he wouldn’t have said anything. He was a very reserved man.”
Modonesi has seen the game develop as Italy have improved in the sport.
“Today they look to hit each other hard but we looked to avoid, not because we were scared but because that was the game,” he said.
“It’s another sport these days. It’s so much quicker, especially the rucks and mauls. It’s so much harder these days.”
Editing by Clare Fallon