Aggiornamento: 21 ott
All roads led to the French Alps on Saturday as the Scambio took part in their first ever tournament on foreign soil.
Volgans was the destination for this one, a tiny village in the mountainous Savoie region boasting a population of just 1555 people.
By 9 am on Saturday morning, that number was decidedly closer to 2000 as 12 teams rocked up at the communal sports ground ready to battle it out under the marvellous spring sunshine.
The Scambio, as always, were well represented, with players arriving quite literally from all over the world as darkness descended on the night before.
Shadi from Brussels, Alvaro from Madrid, and a sun-kissed Giulio Mazzega direct from Miami. A small fleet of cars, meanwhile, steadily made its way from Padova with the remaining troops and coach in convoy.
By the time they all arrived, they looked less like the Harlem Globetrotters and more like the cast of the Les Misérables.
Undeterred, a good night was nevertheless had as the tired bodies sat down for dinner at an outrageously expensive road-side diner blaring out salsa music - a somewhat bizarre establishment given the alpine surroundings and lack of inhabitants – it must be said.
Not that the Chilean, Spanish and Portuguese contingent seemed to mind. With Josè to the fore, the warm-up had begun in earnest. The coach wasn’t too happy with it all. But then again, he rarely is.
Thankfully by the following morning thoughts had quickly turned back to the task at hand. Three pools of four, with some of the top teams in France decorating the occasion.
For the Scambio, it couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. 30 seconds into the opener against SMU, Scottish wing Clare Grace did brilliantly to outflank the French resistance and score in the corner for a memorable score (and future quiz tie-break question)
That try set the tone for a dominant Scambio performance, with Tiago twice on the scoresheet and Shadi also touching down for a superb try, showing some nice footwork and a clean pair of heels to somehow sneak past the cover defence.
The headlines belonged to Alvaro, however, who celebrated his return to action with a hat-trick of tries. Not bad for a guy that never trains.
The final score ended up 7-0, but bigger challenges were to come, most notably in the shape of the host team, Volgans, who would go on to win the tournament in the end, dismantling the Lakers in the final.
Remarkably, of all the teams present, it was the Scambio who posed most problems for this powerful Volgans unit, with Chiara Konishi lighting up proceedings with a tremendous try, diving bravely in her now trademark style to latch onto a pass that seemed out of reach.
Heroic stuff, but not enough to derail one of France’s finest, who eventually eased to a 5-1 victory with some classy tries, albeit against some under-par defending.
A better rear-guard effort would be necessary in the final, decisive game of the pool if the Scambio were to progress from the group, and that is exactly what transpired against another dangerous team, this time from Bresse.
If ever a victory was built around a defensive effort, then this game was it, as the Scambio withstood wave after wave of relentless attack.
Dijana was particularly impressive here, the stalwart Serb imperious in defence whenever the pressure came on down her channel.
At the other end, the Scambio produced some of its best team-play of the tournament, a fact epitomized by the variety of try-scorers.
Padraig and Chiara Cogliati both bagged their first of the day, fitting reward for their unselfish off-the-ball work that so often goes unnoticed.
The male links, meanwhile, were undergoing a renaissance of sorts, with Josè, Giulio and Filippo (x2) also getting on the mark. Filippo’s first try was the pick of the bunch, a clever switch line with Tiago following a well-worked scoop. 6-2 the final score.
And so to the plate semi-final, and as usual, the Scambio produce an unconvincing display following an overly-convincing lunchtime feed.
Granted, old habits die hard, especially in a food-obsessed Italy, but sooner or later this collection of players will need to adopt a more conservative approach to eating if they are to reach their collective potential.
On this occasion, le déjeuner almost cost them against a Volgans B-team hoping to emulate their all-conquering A counterparts.
Luckily, the Scambio did eventually wake from the slumber, with powerful running from Clara in midfield and Chicca on the wing helping to lift those around them.
As they moved through gears, so too followed the tries, with Alvaro back on the scene for a brace to compliment another fine effort from Josè.
Chicca and Joaquin also touched down, both warming nicely to the challenge with the business end of the tournament now approaching. 5-2 the final score. Sometimes the hallmark of a good team is knowing how to win even when playing poorly.
Food now digested, it was then onto the plate final against an attack-minded Barbarians team with no shortage of ambition.
In a tense encounter, tries from the moustached duo of Tiago and Josè had us leading by the slimmest of margins as the clock wound down, clinging precariously to a 2-1 lead with a Barbarians side growing in confidence in the face of our profligate attack.
But cometh the hour, cometh the Cogliati clan, and yet another grandstand finish from the scything siblings.
It was Alberto, firstly, who put daylight between the teams with a typically opportunist try, his first of the day, coming exactly when it was needed most.
And then the moment of the tournament to put the match beyond doubt as little sister Chiara gleefully accepted a pass from Alvaro and gracefully outmanoeuvred the scrambling defence to settle it.
The Barbarians could only despair. C'est la vie came the response. This was always going to be a family affair, for a family within a family.
And so the plate was claimed, followed by more awards later on as sweaty shirts were replaced by dazzling costumes.
First place may have been too much to expect on the pitch, but a clean sweep in the fancy dress contest was a little more than a fait de complit for Mona Lisa and Pavarotti et al, who danced long into the early hours.
And that was that. The following day ended as it always does, farewells bid, memories packed up in the cars, trains and aeroplanes, and much time to reflect on the long journey home.
A lot had been achieved. And the stepping stones for future achievements had been laid.
By midday on Sunday, the population of Volgans had reverted back to 1555 people, and that salsa diner could probably afford to remain closed until we next come back.