Rugby Union: Francescato dies aged 31

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The Independent Online
THE ITALIAN centre Ivan Francescato, the youngest son of the country's greatest rugby family, died yesterday of a sudden and mysterious illness.

The 31-year-old Benetton Treviso player felt strong pains in his head and chest after returning home after a night out on Monday. He started vomiting violently and died in the early hours of yesterday morning. He had attended a Treviso training session earlier but had not taken part because of a minor knee injury. A spokeswoman for the Italian Rugby Union Federation said the cause of death was not known. A post mortem is due to be held today.

Francescato, the youngest of six brothers, played 38 times for Italy at centre and scrum-half. He made his debut in a World Cup qualifying match against Romania in October 1990, scoring a try, and he was voted one of Italy's best players at the World Cup in England the following year.

Francescato won his last full cap in a Test match against South Africa in Bologna in 1997. Shortly afterwards he was injured and dropped out of international contention. But he was returning to the fold and played for the Italy A side against Argentina last November.

"I have no words to say, only tears," Italy's French coach, Georges Coste, said. "He was pure talent - unpredictable. His way of selling dummies was a nightmare for his opponents."

Francescato was perhaps the most talented of an extraordinary family of rugby players. Three of his brothers - Luigi, Rino and Bruno - also played for Italy. Ivan scored 16 tries for his country.