Carlo Fiamme Oro

Still only 31, the veteran Italy fly-half who won 53 caps for across an eight-year international career, has now assumed the captaincy for Fiamme Oro (“Gold Flames”), the cadre of athletes from Italy’s national law enforcement. The crimson-clad team boasts a rich tradition and top-level sportspeople across various disciplines, of which the former Zebre playmaker is the latest.

For every athlete, there comes a time to reckon with the inevitability of time, to ponder what’s next. In turning out for Fiamme Oro, Canna, with a record of 152 points in the national jersey, is envisioning a future beyond the rugby pitch. Helpfully, he had already begun contemplating this transition from a very young age.

In 2012, a 19-year-old Canna left his hometown of Benevento, where he took his first steps in the rugby world, to join the State Police rugby set-up. Fiamme Oro recruit players through public competitions to participate in Serie A Elite, the country's top-tier league. Importantly, it allows athletes post-retirement to formally enter the police force and don the uniform.

Once based in Padova, with five championships in the 50s and 60s, Fiamme Oro's illustrious past transitioned to Rome in the late 80s. After three years with the newly promoted side, and seven with Zebre, Canna returned to a team currently flying high in the Italian championship.

"We lead a life as athletes in every sense and for now we’re not, so to speak, on duty," remarks Canna. “I haven't started thinking about what’s next for me. I’m just enjoying myself on the rugby field knowing that one day it will be hard to leave this environment that I grew up in – although I can't envision myself in a coaching role right now."

Several players in Italy boast impressive records and have made a similar choice. Canna's teammate and vice-captain, Cristian Stoian, and former Treviso and Glasgow flanker Simone Favaro, are among those who have donned the Fiamme Oro colours.

"The opportunity to play rugby while simultaneously thinking about my future was the spark that led me to come here," he explains, crediting former Fiamme Oro coach and Italy prop Pasquale Presutti for his support during the transition from youth and lower leagues to the elite level.

Despite contemplating the end of his playing days, Canna remains focused on the present, saying: "I followed the World Cup and especially Italy. It's a shame how it ended. Maybe there were too many expectations, and I'm sure the guys will be the first to be demoralized and will want to show that it's all behind them in the upcoming Guinness Six Nations."

In the fly-half shirt Canna once wore, we’ve recently witnessed Paolo Garbisi and Tommaso Allan – both France-based players – alternating in the role. Garbisi often features at centre to exploit a dual-playmaker option, which is a dynamic familiar to Canna.

“Towards the end of my international experience, I played as a centre under Franco Smith's management, and I think it could be an interesting solution,” says Canna, who made a memorable Championship debut in 2016 when he scored a try, conversion, two penalties and a drop goal against France. “We’ll see what happens now with the coaching change and Gonzalo Quesada's arrival, because this was an option that aligned well with Kieran Crowley's game plan."

"Garbisi is still young, and Allan has shown excellent kicking percentages both as a fullback and fly-half. Paolo has already won a Top14, and he has great room for improvement and a big career ahead.”

For Canna, the perpetual lure of honouring one of Italy's most prestigious institutions is strong. “We represent this group and want to honour it to the best of our abilities,” he says. “Just think about the extraordinary names that represent Fiamme Oro and the State Police in other sports: Olympic and world champions like Marcell Jacobs [100m], Gianmarco Tamberi [high jump], or Gregorio Paltrinieri [1500m freestyle].

"Wearing the uniform of the State Police, and even just the Fiamme Oro tracksuit, has always held enormous significance for me.”