Thursday, January 28, 2010

Peter Bills: Manawatu on cloud nine in Italian bubble

His name won't strike a ready chord with you, but then, that won't surprise him. Tim Manawatu knows he doesn't exactly have a name as familiar as Dan Carter or Richie McCaw.

No matter, this young man's life has been transformed since he got to Italy on his rugby odyssey; there really is no other way to describe it.

Originally from Kaikoura, part of the Canterbury region on the south island, Manawatu took a leap into the unknown several years ago and has counted his blessings every day since.

"After everything is paid for by your club, you then receive a salary. I played a lot of rugby in New Zealand and enjoyed it, but now I have a young family so I've got to make a living and save money. They look after their foreign players so well here you can really do that.

How do the Italian clubs manage it? "Most clubs have big major sponsors," he explains. "The team's jerseys are covered in sponsors' logos, sometimes up to 30 of them. Of course, soccer is the really big game in Italy but the Italians are passionate about any sport and many of them still follow rugby, especially in the local towns such as L'Aquila.

"It's hard in New Zealand to be a professional player. You think you should be enjoying a terrific standard of living but the costs are high. Here, it's so much easier to save money."

Manawatu drives for 80 minutes to reach the club's training ground from Rome. He travels with four pals who also live near the capital, taking it in turns to drive which makes it easier for all of them.

"I have a nice house in Rome and it's a wonderful city to live in. The first two years I spent in Italy I played for a second division club, Piacenza. That was a great place, too. I also played for Capitolina in Rome.

"All the clubs are family orientated and they treat you like their own. At L'Aquila we have another Kiwi plus a South African, Canadian, Argentinian, two English guys, and many local players. It's a good mix."

Manawatu insists the standard of the Italian Super 10 league merits much respect.

"The top squads here could compete in the Air New Zealand Cup. The bottom teams would be similar to the New Zealand second division sides.

So will the allure continue to attract myriad numbers of players from all over the world? Manawatu certainly believes so. "This trend will continue as long as there is money here.

Italy V England Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

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