Rome: Italy flyhalf Luciano Orquera’s superb display drove his side to a shock 23-18 win over France in their Six Nations opener on Sunday, overshadowing his heavily-hyped opposite number Frederic Michalak.
All the pre-match talk had been the inspired form of the flamboyant French number 10, but man of the match Orquera kicked 10 points and set up both Italian tries to grab the headlines.
His inspired offloads to number eight Sergio Parisse and prop Martin Castrogiovanni gave Italy the confident ball handling they have often lacked in attacking positions.
“I’m really happy for the team and the fans, after two years we’ve beaten France again in Rome,” Orquera said.
“We were mentally extremely strong right from the beginning, we wanted to win at any cost and we were always in the match. We never gave up.”
The unassuming 31-year-old was born and raised in Argentina, the latest in a long line of Latin Americans of Italian descent to come back and help their ancestral home.
The Italian rugby and football national sides have benefited from the Oriundi, as they are called in Italy, with Parisse also raised in Argentina by an Italian family.
After a long spell of injuries between 2009 and 2011, Orquera was dropped for Craig Gower but returned as first-choice flyhalf for the 2011 World Cup before another injury ruled him out of last year’s Six Nations.
He returned in the November Tests and excelled against Australia despite a narrow defeat and with him back in the side Italy could be a real force in this year’s Six Nations.
If they beat Scotland next week, Italian rugby fans could see themselves seriously mixing it with the big boys for the first time in their history.
“We have to confront the games with the same intensity as we had in November,” said the Cordoba-born Orquera in the lead-up to the France match.
“We’ve got the hunger and the desire to take these teams on so I reckon we’re OK.”