Maybe it’s the opening line of L’Inno de Mameli – Italy’s national anthem – exulting the Fratelli d’Italia, or Brothers of Italy, to channel the sprit of Roman general Scipio.
Whatever the reason, the Cannone brothers – second row Niccolò and Number 8 Lorenzo – are, along with their teammates Paolo and Alessandro Garbisi, the latest pair to feature in the tournament together.
Previously, the Cuttitas (Massimo and Marcello), the Dallans (Denis and Manuel), the Bergamascos (Mauro and Mirco), the Sartos (Leonardo and Jacopo), and the Pratichettis (Matteo and Andrea) – have worn Italy’s blue shirt in the Six Nations.
“It is great to play alongside your brother in the national team,” Lorenzo told us. “It is a dream that we’ve had since we were young and when it came true when I made my debut against Samoa in Padova it was amazing.
“To mark it with a try was beyond a dream and to celebrate on the field with my brother was fantastic. For it to come true was the end of a long journey together.”
New Coach, New Era
Right now, the Cannone’s are one of two pairs of brothers in new coach Gonzalo Quesada’s squad for the Six Nations. The other pair is the Garbisis, fly-half Paolo and scrum-half Alessandro. All four start against England this Saturday in Rome.
The Cannones first appeared together in the tournament when they started Italy’s opening match in 2023, against Ireland in Rome. They had played a test together for the first time in November 2022 when Lorenzo made his international debut and marked the occasion with a try in Italy’s 49-17 win over Samoa.
Since then, they have established themselves as regulars in the blue shirt, with Lorenzo featuring in all four of Italy’s Rugby World Cup matches and Niccolò three.
This year Italy open their tournament at home to England at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, but neither of England’s most recent set of siblings, Mako and Billy Vunipola, will feature after Mako retired from Test rugby and Billy picked up a knee injury that ended his season.
England In Town
At the Rugby World Cup England fared best of the Six Nations team when they finished third, and while there is the realisation that they will need to expand their game in ths Championship, Niccolò knows what the forwards can expect.
“Whenever you play a team like England you have to be prepared for the physical challenge, especially for us forwards,” he said. “It is always a tough match for the forwards.
“We know it will be a very physical match and they may change style, they may not, but we just have to be ready for every scenario. Whatever style they play, it will be a real battle in the forwards. When we step on the pitch, we’ve got to be ready to go to war.”
Quesada officially took charge of Italy on New Year’s Day, but he watched all the Azzurri’s Rugby World Cup matches live and once he moved to Italy in October, took in all Benetton and Zebre’s home matches.
He has also held two training camp for the Italy-based players, but there is an awareness on all sides that there is only so much the Argentine can do in the middle of the season.
“He hasn’t really changed much. There’s a new energy and enthusiasm, but the style of play is much the same,” Lorenzo said. “It isn’t really possible to change much in such a short space of time. It’s very much the same, perhaps we’re kicking a bit more in attack.
“The team’s main objective is to improve and perform better every week. Of course, we start each match aiming to win and the results will come from how we perform. However, you play, the results are a consequence of that.”
Florence In The Blood
The Cannones hail from Florence and began their rugby careers with local club Florentia in their early teens. From there Serie A side Petrarca Padova picked them up, and after continuing to impress Benetton Treviso brought them in.
Florence may be three and a half hours' drive from Treviso, but it is rarely far from their thoughts. After all, it’s a place that they describe as “everything. Family, friends, home.”
It is where they enjoyed their most memorable victory, the 28-27 win over Australia in November 2022, which they played in front of a legion of family and friends.
Their social media channels show that they appear happiest cooking a Florentine steak (“time, patience and good meat,” are the key), and while they share their given names with two of the Renaissance city’s most famous sons – Niccolò Machiavelli and Lorenzo Di Medici – as far as they know, they weren’t named in their honour.
During their ascent, the duo were part of the Italy Rugby Academy and the Italy under-20s. Several of that age-grade level made the step up to the national team at the same time, meaning a tight and unified group.
“It’s great,” Niccolò said. “We’re a young group and we’ve been friends for a long time. We’ve all gone through the U18 and U20 teams together, so for us all to be in the national squad after such a long journey is amazing.
“It is a big jump to the national team, but it is a jump that can help the national team improve.”
Under previous coach Kieran Crowley, the Cannones' energy and power helped Italy produce some impressive displays with their ability to move the ball wide quickly.
Quesada has continued Crowley’s work of deepening Italy’s squad, with Exeter Chief’s Ross Vintcent a notable new member and rival for Lorenzo’s Number 8 shirt.
However, they have only enjoyed one Six Nations win over the past four seasons, their memorable 22-21 defeat of Wales in Cardiff in 2022, something the brothers are aware needs to happen more often.
“As the years go by, we build our experience, and the team builds its experience,” Niccolò said. “If there is greater competition in the squad then it will help the level of the team rise. It is hard as a player, but it benefits the team.
“Results are a consequence of how you play. If you win though, fans don’t really care if you’ve played well or played badly. Our main aim is to play a style of rugby that we enjoy and win matches for our fans.