Cardiff Blues’ European Challenge Cup campaign gets underway on Saturday with a visit to Northern Italy where we will play Calvisano at the Pata Stadium.
With little known about our opponents who play outside one of the top three leagues in Europe I’ve done some digging and put together some information on them.
Rugby Calvisano, currently known brilliantly as Kawasaki Robot Rugby Calvisano for sponsorship reasons, were founded in 1970 but had to wait until the late 90s for any sort of success.
That success has lasted for the last 20 years though, seeing them lift seven Italian Championships and three Italian Cups, as well as finishing as runners up in the league a further seven times and three times in the Italian Cup.
They were forced to withdraw from the league in the 2009/10 season for financial reasons but returned two years later to continue their reign at the top of Italian domestic rugby.
Italian internationals who started their career with, or featured for, Calvisano include Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Andrea Lovotti, Matteo Minozzi and Alessandro Zanni.
This spell of domestic success in Italy has seen them regularly at the forefront of efforts in European competition as well, in both the Heineken and Challenge Cups.
After featuring in the second tier competition in the 1999/2000 season they graduated to the top tier for the 2000/01 season, playing there for six consecutive seasons, including against Cardiff Blues in 2005/06 with Jonah Lomu making his debut for us in Italy.
Unfortunately during that time they only won two games, both coming in the 2002/03 season when they beat Neath and Beziers, and with the introduction of Zebre and Treviso to the Celtic League they have no featured in the Heineken Cup after 2009.
Instead they have played infrequently in the Challenge Cup, where Cardiff Blues met them once again in 2015/16, with this being their first time in the tournament since then having triumphed over Rovigo in the third tier European Continental Shield last season to qualify.
Massimo Brunello is a former outside back who spent his entire playing career at Rovigo, winning eight Italy caps in the late 80s and early 90s.
The 52-year-old started his coaching career with the team he played for in 2002 before heading on to Badia in 2004 before going back to Rovigo in 2007. After spending six years coaching Italian national age grade sides between 2009 and 2015 he returned to club coaching with Calvisano in 2015.
He has led Calvisano to top two finishes in the Italian Top12, as it is now known, in each of his four seasons in charge, winning the trophy twice.
Calvisano have a handful of Italian internationals in their squad currently, all of whom are north of 30 though having stepped down to the semi-professional level after lengthy careers as professionals.
36-year-old prop Lorenzo Cittadini won over 50 caps for Italy and enjoyed a club career with stops at Wasps, Bayonne and Stade Francais, while at the back of the pack number eight Samuela Vunisa has 11 Italy caps won during spells at Saracens and Glasgow.
Fabio Semezato is a familiar name who won 11 caps at scrum-half during a nine year spell at Treviso, during which he visited the Arms Park a number of times, and also spent a year at Zebre.
Of the experienced domestic players prop Riccardo Brugnara is a credit of fellow pool opponents Leicester’s Academy, full-back Kayle van Zyl was recently at Treviso while club captain Alberto Chiesa has Italy U20 caps and previously played for Zebre.
The 2019/20 Top12 campaign got off to a good start for Calvisano with wins over San Dona, Medicei and Colorno, however they came unstuck last weekend losing away to Rovigo.
That defeat has momentarily dropped them out of the top four as they bid to defend their title.