Italy international Maxime Mbanda has received one of his country’s highest awards for his contribution to those in need during the global coronavirus pandemic.
The 28-year-old flanker volunteered on the frontline during the height of the outbreak in Italy, becoming an ambulance driver in Parma after getting in touch with the Yellow Cross.
Mbanda was initially tasked with delivering masks, food and prescriptions on his first day before making use of his big frame by transporting patients in and out of hospital.
He also donned a mask and protective suit before going out with other volunteers to Emilia-Romagna, one of the areas in Italy most affected by the pandemic.
Mbanda has now been given the Knights of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic medal and certificate for his endeavours during the early stages of the pandemic in spring.
The honour was bestowed upon him at the Rome hotel where the Zebre forward is currently in a Covid-19 bubble with his internationalteammates before the clash against Ireland.
“I don’t have adequate words to express the emotion I felt when I received the medal and the diploma of Knight of the Republic,” said 20-times capped Mbanda.
“A sensation never experienced before, which I want to share first of all with my family, with all the colleagues of the Yellow Cross and with all those who put themselves at the service of the country in this difficult period.”
The honour is awarded to those who have distinguished themselves in the service to the community, including doctors and nurses during the virus outbreak.
He added: “This honour represents an important recognition for the commitment made by all of them during the lockdown and my commitment is to continue alongside the Parma Yellow Cross as well as my sporting commitments.”
Mbanda decided against receiving the award in person from President Sergio Mattarella in the Quirinal Palace as it would have excluded him from Italy’s remaining Championship fixtures.
President of the Italian Rugby Federation Alfredo Gavazzi said: “On and off the pitch he has shown that he cares deeply about the fate of our country and of every single Italian.
“On behalf of the Federal Council and the entire rugby movement, I wish to thank him for the commitment he has shown.”