David Flatman: Martin Castrogiovanni is massive in Italy – after a fashion

From the Front Row: Forget the trendsetting Adonis, it's those freakishly strong props who live on raw meat that will be posing problems for the Red Rose today

There are two types of Italian man. There are the slim-fit, style-conscious, immaculately groomed espresso sippers, and there are the ones who were, presumably, born too big to ever be trendy and instead clothed themselves in testosterone and ate little more than raw meat from childhood.

Rugby union has room for men of both schools, and even the odd hybrid. An example is Gonzalo Canale, the Azzurri centre, who might well be an olive-skinned Adonis but just so happens to be able to flatten a bull with a stare. So to glibly dismiss the machismo of the men of Italy and subconsciously drop them all into the pigeonhole marked "into fashion" is to forget some of our game's most brutal customers.

The first time I played against Carlos Nieto, the mighty Italian tighthead prop, I finished the game feeling fresh; I just didn't find him too big a handful. After a decent dollop of hype I was, frankly, a little underwhelmed. However, it transpired that he had in fact been nursing a dicky back but played anyway. Next time, I thought, next time I will find out what this bloke has in the locker. And my goodness, it was a lot.

He was – and is – a freakishly strong man. So strong in fact that, having barely survived 80 minutes against him, I walked straight up to my coach after the final whistle and said: "Right, I need to change how I'm training; I can't compete with that in my current state." And I did; I changed everything, all because of this bloke.

Nieto's time as a Test prop is over now, and the box-office giant that is Martin Castrogiovanni has taken the helm. Castro is an interesting set of contradictions, actually. His hair is certainly impractical and probably rather high-maintenance, but it is scruffy enough not to be a product of vanity. His natural flamboyance, despite his best efforts to adhere to the unwritten code of propping silence, leaks out from time to time – usually as a seminal scrum decision goes his way.

He did it to me once: after an hour of no-holds-barred ferocity in which (excuse my bias) we had taken the upper hand, he hit me perfectly – though I will always claim his angle was illegal, naturally – and took me to the cleaners. The whistle blasted, we both knew who had got the nod, and "Vamos!" he shrieked, arms waving. Normally, so vocal a celebration would land a player on an opposing prop's hit list, but with him it did not. You see, he may be a touch more expressive than some, but he also works his backside off at all times, shirks nothing and always takes the bad days with humility. He is a prop in the truest sense.

When placed alongside Andrea Lo Cicero, the bookend on the other side of the Azzurri front row and the man with the largest, most beautifully tattooed legs in the north, they form a partnership that belies the status of the country for which they play. Lo Cicero is, along with Castro, a national hero – and this in a nation besotted with roundball and, to a lesser extent, cycling. They have horrid days at the grinder, of course they do; the Wales game was one such day. But those two will receive these set-piece defeats as insults, and will react accordingly. England will not have it easy today.

I remember talking to Julian White and Danny Grewcock as they prepared to play Italy a few years back, and I commented that they should just get the small matter of the win out of the way, then head off into the night. As if it had been rehearsed, they both stopped me flat. I will not write what they said verbatim, suffice to say they had a healthy level of respect for the physical challenge they knew lay ahead in Rome.

Following the French model, props have become heroes of the highest order in Italy. In a nation that is so often associated with aesthetics, Castro the behemoth has his picture taken more often than Sergio Parisse the god. But this is a cultured, intelligent sporting public, and they know what they like. Over here Dan Cole is slowly starting to garner the sort of appreciation that he deserves, but the Italians he and his chums face today are already there.

Be ready, England: an Italian prop forward is a large, densely muscled, proud beast. Long may the adoration continue.

Suggested Topics
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music(who aren't Arctic Monkeys)
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home