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Mama Mia, it's a big day for Tino!

Byline: By Duncan Madsen

The Falcons will not lack for colourful support when they run out on to the pitch at Stadio Tomasso Fattori tomorrow to take on `The Eagle' in the European Challenge Cup.

For the Paoletti family is decamping en masse from Florence to L'Aquila to watch giant prop Tino and his Falcons team-mates in the flesh.

That is on top of the hardy band of Newcastle supporters who are flying to Rome before making the 150km journey east into the mountains to L'Aquila.

Mama, Papa and a whole legion of assorted Paolettis will be crammed into a van for the 500km drive to the mountain town as Tino and the rest of the Falcons drop in for the weekend.

"Luckily my dad loves driving," said the 28-year-old tighthead as he prepared to return to his home land for the first time in a Newcastle shirt.

"I also have a few mates from around L'Aquila, so there will be some Italians supporting Newcastle there at least!"

Formerly with Parma and Piacenza in the Italian League, Paoletti's local knowledge has given the Falcons a taste of what they can expect in the mountainous Abruzzo region.

He revealed: "It is a small town but they are famous for having a very passionate crowd.

"In terms of sport the town is just `rugby, rugby, rugby' in the same way places such as Treviso, Calvisano and Viadana are, whereas in the big cities it tends to be more football.

"L'Aquila are a good club and they have a big history in the Italian game there.

"The rugby club is like the centre of the community and the supporters will make a lot of noise tomorrow, so we have to be ready for it.

"In Italian club rugby, it is traditionally a difficult place to win because the quality they do have is a lot of passion, like in the way Gloucester have in the English game."

Not underestimating tomorrow's opponents, whose name literally translates as The Eagle, Paoletti said: "When they are at home they have an arrogance about them and they give 110% for their home fans.

"However, if we match their passion and commitment on the day then we are confident our rugby skills and our ability to score tries will win us the game.

"We are not going into this match thinking it will be an easy win, because it is a rugby game and if you turn up without the desire to work hard and earn everything you will pay the price."

Injury has denied Paoletti the chance to lock horns with Italian favourite Andrea Lo Cicero tomorrow.

The disappointed Falcons star admitted: "I have known him for a very long time because we played together with the Italian squad and I would have loved to come up against him.

"You always want to test yourself against the best available players, so when I heard he was injured I was very disappointed.

"It is always nice to try to smash your mates on the rugby field and have a laugh afterwards."

Looking at the squad which will take the field for the locals, Paoletti said: "The No 8 Caine Elisara is a good player going forward, flanker Ealdo Birchall was with me at Parma and I also know another flanker Pierpaolo Rotilio.

"They are not a squad which has big-name players but they have a good team culture and they drive each other on."

"One of my friends called me from L'Aquila last night and said it was minus five there. It is a big skiing region up in the mountains so I just hope the pitch is not frozen and we are able to play the game."
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 9, 2005
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