SAINTS’ Italian prop Anthony Laffranchi was still beaming from ear-to-ear two hours after the final whistle at Cardiff’s World Cup opener.
That smile stayed fixed despite the inconvenience of being hauled down through the cavernous passageways beneath Millennium Stadium immediately after match for a random doping test.
Laffranchi, a World Cup Final loser with the Australians in 2008, was happy to start his campaign with the country of ancestors of to a winning start – especially with it being against hosts Wales.
He said: “It was a good game to back up our performance against England. We started well – then lost our way a little – but then improved in the second half.
“It was a great to share the opening day with Australia and England and then get the opportunity to play in front of the home Welsh fans. It was a fantastic occasion – especially to do so in an Italy jersey.
“Playing for Italy is pretty close to our hearts. We have got a lot of people following us and we are doing it for Italy and our heritage.
“On a personal level my father is a driving force behind this. He passed away during the last World Cup in 2008 when I was picked for Australia, so that was a bittersweet time for myself.
“This is a very proud and emotional time for myself, my mother, brother and sister but also my wife and kids.”
Wales led 16-14 just after the break, but then Italy – packed with NRL stars – began to turn the screw and strangle the life out of the home side by pinning them back on their line.
“It was a good test for us because we knew Wales would be fired up - we had to hang in there to get over the line in the back end of the game,” he said.
Italy now face Scotland – the only one of the home nations to win in round one – on Sunday at Workington.
With the Scots buoyed by their win over Tonga at the same venue on Tuesday, Laffranchi knows that will be tough in what is arguably the real group of death of the opening stages.
“If we drop a game we won’t go through – Scotland is our next focus."