Scottish Rugby is immensely saddened to learn of the death in hospital in Rome yesterday (Sunday 11 April) of the former Italy captain and Scotland scrum coach Massimo Cuttitta. He was 54.
He passed away from complications of Covid, just two days after his mother had died from the virus.
For a player who thrived at the coal-face of the set-piece in international rugby – winning 70 caps for the Azzurri in a ten-year international career which started in 1990 – Massimo adored scrummaging.
But it was never just about technical excellence for him – which he had in abundance. It was about the rapport and relationship he built with those who go about their business in the harshest of rugby’s environments.
His people skills were of the highest calibre. He was warm, quick-witted, charming and it was a joy to spend time in his company. But when he crossed the whitewash? Cue a very competitive different beast!
When he said he “loved” his players, you knew he meant it. He would do anything to encourage them in their performance.
During his six years as Scotland scrum coach – having been brought into the national team management by Andy Robinson during his tenure as Scotland head coach – Massimo would do the drills with considerable aplomb, whether on scrummage machines or live packs v packs, but it was when he called his front-rows together for a little chat, sometimes over a coffee on the eve of a match, that the bond oozed out of every softly-spoken syllable. And it was reciprocated.
Massimo had first worked with Edinburgh Rugby as a consultant in 2005 and for the next few years he became the go-to scrummaging expert for both pro-clubs.
He was in demand elsewhere too and he became quite an expert in the Ryanair flight schedule between Edinburgh and Rome – mixing it up with the occasional drive to South Yorkshire, where he would renew acquaintance with Lynn Howells at Doncaster Knights, Howells having been the head coach with whom he had worked at Edinburgh originally.
On the Scotland tour of Argentina in 2010 – the first time that Scotland achieved a 100% record on a trip to the Southern Hemisphere – Massimo was in his element.
To see the Scotland scrummage give as good as it got against the Pumas – a team whose psyche was determined so much by how their pack scrummaged – meant a huge amount to him.
And the call that went up when an extra scrummaging effort was required – often in the closing stages when the result of the game was in the balance? Well, it was no surprise to hear the players shouting “Massimo”. That was the ultimate respect they had for him.
That call lived on, after Massimo left the Scotland set-up in 2015, as he went on to serve as a coaching consultant with Romania, Canada and Portugal.
Massimo was equally passionate about watching and encouraging young Scottish props who he would keep an eye on in the Premiership or in age-grade internationals.
He was also enthusiastic about passing on his set-piece nous to the Scotland Women’s team.
As a player, Massimo made his debut for Italy against Poland in Naples in April 1990.
Born in Latina but raised in South Africa like his twin Marcello, Massimo played club rugby for L'Aquila, Amatori Calvisano and Milan in his native Italy and enjoyed a spell with Harlequins in London.
He captained Italy on 22 occasions, first facing Scotland A at the Greenyards in Melrose in 1992 and being part of the Italian team that marked their entry into the Six Nations Championship in 2000 with victory over Scotland in Rome. He scored six tries for his country.
He was always very much at home in Scotland, and you had to cajole him to park his modesty to speak about his own prodigious international playing career. But on a trip to Rome on international business, the affection in which he was held in Italy was striking, especially when he was able to organise a private trip to the Vatican for the Scotland party.
Scotland Head Coach Gregor Townsend said: “This is such sad news, and my thoughts go out to Massimo’s family at this tragic time for them.
“Mas was a lovely man who connected really well with players and fellow coaches, building lasting relationships with a huge number of people in Scottish rugby and throughout the world.
"His passion and expertise made a game-changing impact at improving the scrummaging of the national team and both of our pro teams. He developed a strong bond with his beloved front row forwards, who I’m sure will be immensely grateful for having met and worked with him. Rest in peace Massimo.”
Scottish Rugby extends its sincere condolences to Massimo Cuttitta’s twin brother Marcello, the rest of his family and all his many friends.