Johnstone vows to change Dominguez's mind
April 2, 2000
Italy's one player of genuine world quality Diego Dominguez brought down the curtain on his international career by converting Alessandro Troncon's consolation try with the last kick of the 42-31 Six Nations defeat by France at the Stade de France Saturday.
Referee Pablo Deluca, from Dominguez's native country Argentina, put his arm around the fly-half as he blew the final whistle and his team-mates chaired him off the field while Italy's coach Brad Johnstone vowed to make Dominguez reconsider his decision to leave the international stage.
Had it not been for a dubious Thomas Castaignede try and Valter Cristofoletto's sending-off then Dominguez - 34 later this month - might well have signed off with a memorable Italian victory in the first ever all Latin Six Nations encounter.
"I have had 10 great years but I can't say which one was the best as in every year there were good things and bad things," said the veteran after his swansong appearance.
"I will miss the Italian team very much because I have enjoyed many emotional times with them.
"Today I was full of emotion and the warmth of the reception was even more than I expected.
"I hope Italy will find the player to replace me. I thought at one point that we might pull off a great victory in my final match but the try of Castaignede and the sending-off made it impossible.
"My main aim is to help Stade Francais win the European Cup with the two years left on my contract," said Cordoba-born Dominguez who has won 61 caps for the "Squadra Azzura".
Dominguez chose to play for Italy after having his path to a cap with Argentina blocked by Pumas legend Hugo Porta and then also coming into competition with Lisandro Arbizu.
He chose to play for Italy and in May 1991 made his bow against France at Rome.
Italy coach Brad Johnstone immediately launched a bid to dissuade his most prized asset from quitting the international scene after the Stade de France defeat.
"Obviously I am going to try and persuade him to change his mind. I can't force him to because then it wouldn't be worth it," said New Zealander Johnstone.
"However, it's a hell of a blow for me personally to lose one of the greatest professionals I have ever come across.
"I need him badly and I would do almost anything to change his mind as I think he has still three great years left in him so hopefully after he has rested up mentally and physically he will think again after I've talked to him."
Dominguez had, as usual, been at the origin of most of Italy's good work although he was for once overshadowed by his half-back partner Troncon, who scored two of Italy's four tries from scrum half.
Before the match Troncon abandoned protocol and allowed Dominguez to lead the team out onto the pitch in honour of what the Argentinian-born stand-off still insists was his last match in an Italian shirt.
And Dominguez came desperately close to scoring a farewell try in the opening minutes with referee Deluca correctly ruling that he had failed to exert downward pressure on the ball as he crossed the French line.
For the rest of the fixture Dominguez prompted most of the Italian moves with the visitors running in four times.
At the end of the match even the French spectators gave the diminutive stand-off an emotional reception as his teammates shook his hand before carrying him on their shoulders towards the Italian supporters.
Dominguez turned down initial requests to interview him at the pitchside but later emerged for a brief chat, although he did not have much to say.
Afterwards he was more forthcoming although it remains to be seen if Johnstone wins his battle to persuade the fly-half to reconsider.
One player who Johnstone will make no attempt to lure back into international rugby is Cristofoletto whose sending off went a long way to deciding the match.
The cumbersome forward, at 35, had already been sinbinned earlier in the match before launching a blatant assault on Abdelatif Benazzi right under the nose of the touch judge, leaving Deluca little option but to dismiss him.
Italy, unlucky to be trailing at the interval after Deluca had allowed a Castaignede try when the French fullback clearly touched the ball down out of bounds, were then reduced to 14 men and that decided the match.
"That's the last game he will ever play for me," the former All Black prop said.
"After 30 minutes I thought we had a real chance to take them, because they were cracking under pressure as they have done recently, but the Castaignede try, which is a perfect example of why video replays should be used, and then Cristofoletto's unintelligent fouls swung it away from us."
Unless Dominguez reconsiders then Johnstone will go into the summer tour of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji shorn of the one player of undisputed world quality in Italian rugby.
France coach Bernard Laporte paid tribute to Dominguez who played under Laporte at Stade Francais.
"Italy has progressed since 1997 but they will have problems replacing Dominguez because they have a smaller reservoir of talent than ourselves," said Laporte.
The thoughts of Laporte's skipper Fabien Pelous - and many French players - were with French international lock Jean Daude who is in a Toulouse hospital recovering from a serious brain injury.
Daude won his debut cap at Murrayfield against Scotland earlier in the tournament and Pelous said: "I dedicate this match to Jean Daude who is fighting on a hospital bed to recover his mobility."