Magners League
Italian clubs on collision course with FIR
Enrico Borra
April 24, 2011
Aironi's Tito Tebaldi stretches to score a try, Treviso v Aironi, Magners League, Stadio Comunale di Monigo, Treviso, Italy, December 24, 2010
Aironi's Tito Tebaldi scores against Treviso earlier in the season © Getty Images

Aironi and Benetton Treviso's Magners League participation could be at risk as the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) looks to end a dispute over foreign player limits.

The two sides will soon celebrate the end of their first season in the competition, but heavy turbulence is looming.

The franchises have produced middling results on-field and sit bottom of the league - Aironi having won only once, against Connacht - but they have enjoyed a rise in attendances. More than 43,000 people have watched the ten Treviso games played so far at the Monigo Stadium and around 30,000 attended the nine Aironi matches, figures that were surprisingly high when compared with the normal average of the Italian championship.

Both teams are financed in part by the FIR, who want to protect the development of young Italian players. The FIR is thought to be spending between six and seven million euros for the two franchises, divided between players' contracts and league fees. A demand of euro 3m for four years, which should have been divided between the FIR, Aironi and Benetton Treviso has been paid in full by the Federation.

Concerns have been raised over the number of average foreign players operating at the two teams. From next season they will compete under an FIR ruling that states that no more than five overseas players are permitted in a starting XV, with that number falling to three in coming seasons.

They may use one foreign player in the front and second row, one in the back-row, one at halfback and one in the backs, a move designed to safeguard the growth of homegrown talents such as scrum-half Fabio Semenzato, one of the success stories of the last Six Nations, or Edoardo Gori. Both players have been positive additions to the national setup in recent years, but collected just a few caps in the Magners League in the first part of the season.

Both teams have raised concerns, however, that the ruling will leave them short on personnel at the beginning of next season, with both set to contribute heavily to the Italy squad at the Rugby World Cup.

"I really can't understand the critics," Giancarlo Dondi, long-time president of the FIR, said. "People are forgetting why we chose to enter the professional era. We decided to accept the Magners League offer to gain a professional dimension that would allow our national team's players to grow and get used to the international level on a weekly basis.

"We did so only to have the chance to control our elite players, trying to offer them a more competitive and economically rewarding environment, that would have prevented them from leaving Italy. At the same time we were trying to get some of our best internationals back from the French and English leagues. We want our players in the game and we want fewer foreign players, but of top quality to help our rugby grow. So it's not really a matter of Aironi or Benetton Treviso, it's the interests of Italian rugby and the national team that is guiding the growth of our movement. I must add that all the Magners League teams operate in the same conditions."

The Italian Federation owns the two participation licenses and, if things don't change in the short term, they may even reallocate them to other candidates from 2012-13.

"We gave Aironi and Benetton Treviso our indications and we expect that they will use them in the general interest of Italian rugby," Dondi said. "I'm confident they will start cooperating but if they won't the Italian Rugby Federation must think at some alternative solutions for the 2012-13 season."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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