The International Rugby Board have presented Italian club L'Aquila with the IRB Spirit of Rugby Award 2009 in association with Emirates Airline following an extraordinary year which saw the Rugby Club aid and support its local community.
On 6 April 2009, an earthquake struck the Rugby dominated town of L'Aquila, killing 300 people and leaving thousands homeless. Amongst those killed was promising young prop Lorenzo Sebastiani, who had represented Italy at the IRB Junior World Championship in Wales just 10 months before.
In true reflection of the Spirit of Rugby, L'Aquila Rugby Club became the pounding heart of a shocked and debilitated community, providing shelter, refuge and comfort to those within it.
L'Aquila's Rugby players placed themselves in the front line, contributing significant strength to the rescue effort and constructing shelters across the pitch for the newly homeless.
Giancarlo Dondi, President of the Federazione Italiana Rugby, presented the Award on Friday at a special ceremony following the Club's first match back at the Tommaso Fattori Stadium, their home ground.
"I am very proud to present the Award to L'Aquila on behalf of the IRB. The club showed great solidarity, something that the rugby family saw and admired. We saw players risk their lives to save the lives of others," said Dondi.
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset added: "This is a very special award for a very special club. The global Rugby family were shocked and saddened by the events that unfolded in L'Aquila in April and share the grief at the loss of Lorenzo Sebastiani."
"However, the Rugby family can take great pride and inspiration from the members of the Club for their selfless action and unwavering spirit in helping their community come to terms with their loss."
"I am delighted to see L'Aquila Rugby playing in their home ground again, less than five months after the earthquake. This is a richly deserved award and I am proud to be involved in this evening's presentation," said Troncon.
Giacomo Pasqua, President of L'Aquila Rugby, added: "I would like to thank the IRB, to thank Bernard Lapasset and the Italian Federation for this great honour. The city of L'Aquila was very proud to accept this and it has been a night of great emotion."
Italy's most capped international Alessandro Troncon was in L'Aquila for the presentation and expressed the Rugby family's immense pride for the Club's members who had contributed so much to the rescue effort, while also expressing grief at the loss of Sebastini and his belief that "Lorenzo is looking down and is with us all tonight".
The Spirit of Rugby Award exemplifies the incredible feats that can be achieved through Rugby both on and off the field, and recognises those who through selfless action influence the lives of others, make significant contribution to their communities and demonstrate the force for good that sport can be in all areas of the world.
The Spirit of Rugby Award is the fourth of the 13 coveted IRB Awards in association with Emirates Airline to be presented in 2009. In May, England captain Ollie Phillips was named IRB Sevens Player of the Year, while New Zealand captain Aaron Cruden was named IRB Junior Player of the Year in June, and Australia's Debby Hodgkinson was named IRB Women's Personality of the Year in August.
In a new format for the IRB Awards in association with Emirates Airline, winners will be named throughout the year, culminating in the announcement of the prestigious IRB Player, Coach and Team of the Year in November.
2008 - Roelien Muller and Patrick Cotter
2007 - Nicolas Pueta
2006 - Polly Miller
2005 - Jean Pierre Rives
2004 - Jarrod Cunningham
2003 - Michael and Linda Collinson
2002 - Old Christians Rugby Club
2001 - Tim Grandadge