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Official Review by Jeremy Inson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
With a capacity of 73,000 Rome’s Stadio Olimpico is Italy’s highest profile and most modern stadium and can now add Italy’s national rugby union team to its list of tenants that includes soccer clubs AS Roma and SS Lazio.Since the start of 2012 the Azzurri has played three times in the Stadium, which sits north-west of the city centre amongst the Foro Italico Sports Complex. They faced England and Scotland in the Six Nations, then took on the world champion New Zealand team in their autumn internationals. Previously their home in Rome was the more homely, 35,000-capacity Stadio Flaminio which, like the Stadio Olimpico, was originally built for the 1960 Olympic Games. However, with interest in the rugby team growing, the decision was taken at the start of 2012 to move matches across the river to a venue twice its side and means the Azzurri is now the fourth largest stadium used in the Six Nations, behind London’s Twickenham, Paris’ Stade de France and Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, but ahead of Edinburgh’s Murrayfield and Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. Originally the move was only intended to be temporary while the Flaminio underwent construction, but such has been its popularity that the move has received the thumbs up from both Italian players and their opposition alike.
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Like most stadiums in Italy the best food is available from the various concession stands and food trucks outside the stadium. Hot sandwiches or pizza slices are the most popular choices and most serve chips, chocolate and candy as well.
At the rugby matches, alcohol is available from pretty much anywhere inside and outside the stadium, with the teams' sponsor Peroni everywhere you look. There are a vast number of beer tents outside on the concourse and small bars inside to keep fans refreshed once the action is underway.
As with pretty much all rugby stadiums, the powers that be have no interest in getting rid of the supporters and as such the food and drink stands stay open long into the evening.
Of course it is no surprise that the best food is in the city centre, which is a short ride away and where you can enjoy some of the best food around.
The atmosphere is not too dissimilar to other major stadiums for international teams, where the fans aren't always overly familiar with all the players.
At the beginning of the match things are fairly spicy and there is a lot of noise, which either grows or lessens depending on the amount of action taking place after kick-off. If Italy are on the attack or desperately defending on their own line then the atmosphere can reach a peak.
At other times it can be decidedly flat, notably after half-time when the majority of the crowd are either slowly returning to their seats after taking refreshment or visiting the facilities.
The Stadio Olimpico is the centrepiece of the Foro Italico sports complex north-west of the city, which also houses the swimming centre that hosted the 2009 FINA World Swimming Championships and the tennis centre where the Italian Masters takes place each May.
It was built in the 1930's at the behest of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and while it boasts an impressive array of neo-fascist architecture and design, there is precious little else in the area, and with the centre of the Eternal City less than 30 minutes away, it is better to head back there to sample its charms.
Most Italians are still getting their heads around the intricate laws of rugby union, so they are not always in the know throughout the 80 minutes. However, whenever their team get on the attack they are quick to find their voice and roar on their boys.
Those who do know their rugby come from all ends of the peninsula and drape the stands with flags adorned with their club names, badges and symbols.
They are definitely not short of the famous Italian passion during the national anthem when it seems that not only the whole stadium, but the whole city is belting out the spine-tingling Inno dei Mammeli. The bar is set by the players who roar over the official singer, close to tears while clutching the Italian flag on their chest, with many of those in the stands following suit.
After the match most are happy to stick around and enjoy a drink and some food and either discuss the match or replay its highlights themselves on the stadium concourse.
Reaching the stadium on public transport means at least one change and the main two routes involve jumping on the A metro line. Fans can alight at Flaminio and catch the number 2 tram which drops fans a short walk from the stadium. The alternative is to get off at Ottaviano and take the number 32 bus or at Lepanto and catch the 224 or 280, all which deposits fans off across the road from the stadium.
If arriving by car from outside the city drivers need to take the ring road exit sign-posted Flaminia and then follow signs for the stadium. From inside the city, the stadium and Foro Italico complex are both well signposted. Drivers be warned though, battling traffic in Rome isn't for the faint hearted and there isn't a great deal of parking nearby.
Once at the stadium entry points and turnstiles are well signposted though.
Rome is one of the most stunning cities in the world, with its array of world famous sites. As such a match at the Stadio Olimpico is the perfect accompaniment to a trip to the Eternal City.
So far the matches against New Zealand and Scotland both sold out, while England was only down on numbers due to the first snowfall in the city for 25 years. Even so there are still tickets available up to game time from the ticket office at the southern end of the Foro Italico complex.
For those staying a little longer, the Rugby Federation sells a mini-season ticket, which covers all the matches at the Stadium in the current season. For the match with New Zealand and the Six Nations matches against Ireland, France and Wales, the tickets start from €70 ($90).
There are plenty of pre and post-match events to keep fans of all ages interested. As well as food and drink stands staying open long into the night, there is often a band on stage, big screens showing other matches and a mini-pitch for young and not-so-young wannabe players to show off their skills to any passing scouts.
Italy recently signed a mega-bucks deal with sports firm Adidas and there is plenty of kit to buy from the stalls outside the stadium. A word of warning though: The gear doesn't come cheap, with beanies retailing at €28 ($36) and t-shirts at €23 ($29). For a playing jersey you won't get much back from a €100 note as they go for €89 ($114).
If you are in town for the build up to the match keep an eye on the Federation website or local news because there are plenty of opportunities to meet and greet the various players who hold playing clinics and meet and greet sessions with the public in the build up to matches.
For the true fanatic about 30 minutes from Rome is the town of Artena and Il Museo del Rugby, the Rugby Museum that features memorabilia from across the rugby world and most notably a huge number of shirts from famous and not-so famous players, each with their own story to tell. The Museum often plays host to famous ex-players ahead of a test match as well.
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