Obituary: Ivan Francescato

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The Independent Culture
IVAN FRANCESCATO was one of six rugby-playing brothers, four of whom played for Italy - the family was the first to achieve such an honour for major rugby-playing nation. He made 38 international appearances for Italy, proving his immense natural talent as scrum half and then centre for the Azzurri.

Francescato made an important contribution towards taking the Italian game to the brink of the big time. In 2000, Italy's inclusion alongside the traditional five nations will make it a Six Nations Championship for the first time. Francescato's sudden death has left Italian rugby mourning one of its favourite sons. He died within hours of complaining to his father that he felt unwell.

Francescato was not the biggest of players, at a couple of inches under six feet, but his trademark flowing long hair meant that he always stood out in a crowd. Off the field, his bubbly nature made him a hugely popular player.

Roy Bish, the Welshman who coached Italy between 1975 and 1977, knew the Francescato family well and selected three of the brothers for the Azzurri:

The Francescato family came to Treviso from Sardinia. The boys' father had a smallholding and grew asparagus. It was a tough, concentrated working lifestyle and the Sardinian characteristics came shining through in the play of all the brothers. They were physically hard, were all so strong, fast and clever and were extremely skilful.

Born in 1967, Ivan was the youngest of six brothers; three, Luigi, Rino, Bruno, who played at international level, and two, Luca and Manuel, who played at club level in Serie A. Ivan took up rugby as a teenager and joined a local club, Tarvisium. He played for them for several years, gaining international recognition as a Tarvisium player before joining Treviso's senior side in 1992. He was a stalwart of the Benetton Treviso side in all four of their European Cup campaigns and helped his club win the Italian Championship in 1997 and 1998 and the Italian Cup in 1998.

He scored 16 tries for his country, including one on his international debut in a match against Romania in 1990. He was voted one of the best players in the 1991 World Cup, hosted by England, and also played in the 1995 World Cup.

Michael Lynagh, the Australian fly half and Francescato's Benetton Treviso club-mate, said:

I first saw Ivan play during the 1991 World Cup when he was the Italian scrum half and he scored a wonderful try against the USA. It was superb stuff. Every World Cup produces a player from a lesser nation who captures the public eye and Ivan was that player eight years ago. He was adored for the way he played the game. If he found himself in a bit of space there would be that huge sidestep and, with his hair flying everywhere, he would be gone. He was not big or powerful, but he was electric and the supporters loved him.

Francescato and the Treviso full back Piero Dotto had opened a bar in Treviso and Francescato's personality meant it quickly became a place for the players and supporters to meet. He had been recovering from injury sustained shortly after he won his last cap in an international against South Africa in Bologna in 1997, and the lure of playing in the Six Nations would have been the spur he needed to reclaim his Azzurri place.

Ivan Francescato, rugby player: born Treviso, Italy 10 February 1967; died Treviso 18 January 1999.