Premiership final: Marco Riccioni ‘embracing the pain’ in bid for Saracens glory against Sale
arco Riccioni repeats the mantra, extolling the double-edged virtues of life as a tight-head prop.
“Embrace the pain,” the Saracens scrum cornerstone declares. And in three words, the Italy star encapsulates both his rugby maxim and the mindset required. Riccioni talks about learning to love a spine compressed in rugby’s technical, tactical but always gladiatorial set-piece scrum.
The 25-year-old, who on Friday signed a new two-year deal to stay at the StoneX, could so easily be discussing Teramo and L’Aquila’s recovery from the 2009 earthquake that killed more than 300 people, ravaged a community and ruined scores of historic buildings.
Riccioni was 11 when the quake hit, a young centre at L’Aquila watching senior players and staff clearing rubble and wreckage, then rebuilding.
The Azzurri front-rower was just six games into his Saracens career last term when a torn ACL on Test duty ended his season. Forced to watch last term’s 15-12 Premiership Final defeat by Leicester from the Twickenham stands, Riccioni now wants to repay Saracens’ faith through that injury when it comes to Saturday’s showdown against Sale Sharks.
“You have to love the scrum, you can’t play there if you don’t love it,” Riccioni told Standard Sport. “Embrace the pain, you have to. I enjoy what I’m doing, I love playing tight-head.
You have to love the scrum, you can’t play there if you don’t love it
“I played centre as a kid, but moved to prop at Under-16s. I was the biggest guy in the group, so I was straight into the front row!”
Riccioni’s L’Aquila junior club is no more, another victim of rugby’s tough climate. But just as the people of the region continue to rebuild a passionate town and area, so, too, the Saracens prop believes there can be a reconstruction for the famous outfit.
“The earthquake had a huge impact, but the rugby boys at the time were the first ones to be helping the people out,” said Riccioni. “L’Aquila has always been a big rugby city, they are really big rugby fans there.
“Unfortunately, in the last couple of years, they disappeared as a team. But they have a lot of rugby boys doing well, so, hopefully, in the next five, 10 years we’ll see something coming up from L’Aquila. It’s not easy, but we’ll see.
“The earthquake changed a lot of things there. It will take time to rebuild the city and all the things. When things like that happen, the city and people come first, and then sports after that.”
Riccioni had only just started to make his presence felt at Saracens when that ligament tear happened. Relieved and delighted to have settled into his StoneX rhythm this term, the former Calvisano and Benetton man has locked down Saracens’ tight-head side in style.
“It’s been a long year, and a long road back from injury before that,” he said. “I’m so happy we’re in the final and I have a chance to play. I was loving being there last year, but hating not being on the field. It was awful not being able to help the boys.
“I takes a bit to come back to your top level, so I was so glad to play in this year’s Six Nations, and that helped me get to my best again.
“The knee was my first big injury. The medical staff, the boys and all the coaches, they’ve been amazing. They helped me so much, so I’m very happy to be able to give something back now. Hopefully, I can pay them back this weekend.”
Two years into Saracens life, Riccioni is finally getting to grips with the English way of life.
“I still miss the sun, but now the days are getting better, there’s a bit of sun out, so I’m enjoying that,” said Riccioni. “But I am settled and feel at home. I feel I’m actually half-English now!
“It is very different from Italy. We don’t have the same rhythm of life, the guys here work very, very hard. I wouldn’t say we don’t work hard in Italy, but maybe in Italy we are a bit more chilled.
“I can see little differences, and that’s actually made the main difference for me, working-wise. You grow up playing in a style how the Italians teach me. So, I’ve come here, see how the English boys play, you see different things and you can just learn about that.”