San Jose ready for Eagles, Azzurri fans in Italian showcase

LAFAYETTE, Colo. - The international test rugby season is almost upon us once again after several months of collegiate, club, and professional competition filling the Men's Eagles void. In just 37 days, John Mitchell's national team will line up against No. 14 Italy at San Jose's Avaya Stadium.

Avaya Stadium is one of the newest pieces of sporting infrastructure in the San Francisco/San Jose Bay Area, and is home to Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes. In 2015, however, it was the home to a World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup match day.

More than 10,000 fans witnessed the Eagles and Samoa clash as the sun set after an 80-minute battle between the neighboring Canadians and soon-to-be-fan-favorite-at-Rugby-World-Cup-2015 Japan from the high-tech stands of Avaya Stadium. The combined rugby culture of the area and the pandemonium created by the rugby matches created a unique atmosphere inside the 18,000-seat venue, necessitating a return to northern California for test rugby.

The Eagles have hosted Italy as recently as 2012 at Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium, with the likes of now-retired Paul Emerick, Mike MacDonald, and Louis Stanfill in the starting XV. While the Eagles kept their Tier One opposition close on the score sheet through most of the first half, the scoring well ran dry and Italy was able to cross the Atlantic Ocean with a 27-10 victory.

Four members of the current Eagles Elite Training Squad - Todd Clever, Taku Ngwenya, Blaine Scully, and Andrew Suniula - were in the match-day 23 that day, as was Italian wing Mauro Bergamasco, the brother of current PRO Rugby Sacramento center Mirco Bergamasco. While Mirco Bergamasco's career with the Azzurri - for whom he is the eighth-most-capped player - has been over since 2012, the Italian has been an influential figure in an exciting time for rugby in the region and the country, helping the world's newest professional rugby players adapt to the top-level climate as well as drawing eyes to the game as a decorated veteran.

Mirco Bergamasco, the fifth-leading points-scorer in PRO Rugby after four weeks of play, could take in his home country's encounter with the Eagles June 18 as Sacramento has a bye in Week 10. One Italian player that will not be there unless he is chosen to the Azzurri touring side is Ohio's Filippo Ferrarini. Though he has not been capped at the senior level, the loose forward has scored two tries for the high-flying Ohio team, which will be in action in Denver Sunday, June 19.

Fans in town for the June 18 match will be able to experience some of the Italian culture away from the rugby pitch, too. Within three miles of Avaya Stadium is Little Italy San Jose, located on the site of the city's original Italian settlement dating back to the late 1800s. The non-profit organization is currently in the midst of fundraising for the renovation of a home built in 1910 to become an Italian cultural center and museum, and already has several locally owned businesses up and running in Little Italy.

There will also be other rugby to take in on the weekend, with Let's Play Rugby and Silicon Valley Rugby Football Club teaming up for Carlsberg Cup Silicon Valley Sevens. With all proceeds benefitting youth rugby in the Bay Area, the tournament will be hosted at Boynton High School fields in west San Jose - just 10 minutes from Avaya Stadium. The tournament is still accepting registrants for competition. To register to play and for more information, visit www.cc7s.com.

Tickets are still available for the June 18 match in San Jose. You can win a USA Rugby national team jersey signed by the Rugby World Cup 2015 squad if you purchase ticketsBEFOREMay 18. Click here for more information.