Tournaments on the road in December are never easy.
They always seem to involve waking up at an ungodly hour, driving ridiculously long distances in the dark and braving sub-zero temperatures for 8 hours too many.
When the freezing fog sets in at about 5pm, players normally have more interest in the prospect of a hot shower rather than that of another tussle in the icy mud.
That is, of course, unless your last match represents a winner-takes-all dog-fight against perennial Italian champions and enduring nemeses, Brianza Toucherz.
In the lead-up to this final, the Scambio had looked comfortable in their group stages, coming out on top of a pool containing TraTouch, Ternana Rugby and local rivals Torelli Sudati, who we also despatched in the semi-finals thanks to some fine team-tries, the pick of which scored by Filippo on a reverse-x-ninja-sweep.
Sound complicated? Well of course it was!
We are the Scambio after all, a team not exactly known for taking the easy option!
In fact, the goal we set for ourselves going into this tournament was not necessarily to win, but to iron out the creases in some new, more-complex-than-usual attacking moves.
Given we also had some new combinations in our lineup (with recent acquisition “Corce” making his debut), the prospect of claiming top spot had seemed a very remote possibility when departing Padova and if anything, the mood had been on the side of lethargic.
Nothing like the sight of those familiar green Brianza shirts, however, to sharpen our senses.
As darkness descended, our goals were quickly re-calibrated.
Before this match we had won two of our last three fixtures against the reigning champions, but with Brianza severely depleted on both occasions, the victories were somehow a little hollow.
In truth, Brianza weren’t quite at full strength for this one either, with star player Giacomo enjoying a seasonal sabbatical in Australia.
But with experienced player-coach Nico at the helm, they still represented a formidable opposition, far too good for a close-to-full-strength Verona in the other semi-final, which spoke volumes.
As for us? Well, despite having scored an average of seven tries in each of our previous 4 games, we were under no illusions. Nothing less than a 5-star performance would suffice, with defence – as ever - likely to determine the outcome.
Thankfully, we were able to produce the goods.
A first-half try by elegant French mid Antonin helped to settle the nerves, and while Brianza threw everything at us with a customary attacking onslaught, we managed to limit them to just a single try in the first half.
If anything, we were the ones who should have scored a few more having carved out several decent opportunities.
Mids Corce and Tiago impressed as a new pairing, penetrating the line on several occasions only for the final pass to go astray.
We really have to learn to convert our attacking opportunities against good teams, and it seemed as though those misses might cost us badly as Brianza stepped up a gear and began to dominate in the second half with wave after wave of attack,
But try as they might, our defence largely held firm, with links Carlo, Amine and Filippo making several vital interventions.
Our female cohort was equally impressive, with Dania, Suri, Chloe, Shadi and Micha refusing to buckle despite the enormous pressure coming their way from the 4 Brianza men on the pitch,
And then, with the game in the balance as the clock ran down, finally it came, the coup de grace.
Ever more desperate to get that crucial try, Brianza fired a loose pass which was gleefully intercepted by Charlie who showed remarkable speed and fitness to run the length of the pitch untouched and dot down on the buzzer.
Game over, and a first Championship win for us since beating Orange in Napoli almost one year earlier.
Cue an evening of energetic celebration in the clubhouse with Prosecco flowing from the winner’s cup as we all took a sip.
The artic conditions, the fatigue from travelling, the long trip home yet to come … none of that seemed to matter now.
This victory has been unexpected and perhaps for that reason it had been sweeter than most.
By the time we all got back to Padova in the early hours of Sunday morning the rankings had been updated and there we sat, top of the pile in pole position at the end of 2023.
Christmas, most assuredly, had come early for the Scambio di Lingue.