Italy will furiously block any attempt to allow South Africa to replace them in the Six Nations, with a dire warning that being tossed out of the tournament would “kill the sport” in their country.
One well-placed Six Nations insider suggested that reports the Springboks would take the Azzurri’s place in the Six Nations by 2025 were a “fantasy”.
The Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) would not comment publicly yesterday but sources close to the Azzurri suggested that they would have a veto over any change to Six Nations participants.
“Do you think Italy at any stage is going to allow themselves to leave the Championship?” an Italian source said. “I don’t think so. It is never going to happen.”
Other sources were less confident about Italy’s status. Their run of 34 consecutive defeats in the tournament has been very damaging. World champions South Africa would not only lift the standard of competition but it would enable the Six Nations to tap into a lucrative commercial market.
While the mechanism to remove teams from the Six Nations has not yet been employed, it is understood that Italy would have to be bought out of their one-seventh share in the tournament.
Marco Bortolami, the former Italian captain and current head coach of Benetton Treviso, warned that bringing in South Africa would have severe consequences, not just in Italy but for the tournament as a whole. “It would be a disaster,” Bortolami said.
“For exposure, the Six Nations has always been the highlight of the season for Italian rugby. It would be a disaster, 100 per cent. If you want to kill rugby in Italy, that would be the best way to do it.”
Telegraph Media Group Limited