Nelson police officer Mario Sasso was born in New Zealand but his blood flows thick with Italian heritage - so it makes sense to him to team up with his mother country's rugby team next month.
Sasso is one of 20 police officers who will "embed" with a visiting Rugby World Cup team, to ensure the players have a safe and untroubled time in New Zealand.
The initiative - which police believe is a world-first for a big sports tournament - follows the embarrassment to both New Zealand and France in 2009 when a member of that nation's team claimed to have been assaulted by four or five men, late at night outside his Wellington hotel.
Police investigated - and discovered security camera footage showing Mathieu Bastareaud returning uninjured to his hotel. On his return to France, he admitted he had been drunk and had hurt his face when he tripped over a table in his hotel room.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
This year, the police officers have been placed with the teams who will spend the most time in their home region. For example, Namibia will spend 12 nights in Gisborne so eastern district detective Steve Smith will buddy up with the African side.
They will sleep, eat, train and tour with the team and be at their side 24 hours a day, providing assistance and advice including how to avoid road blocks, what the best night spots are and how to report a criminal incident.
"We are just there to help out," Sasso said. "If that means loading bags on to a bus then fine ... but the critical point is if there is an issue at least we are there."
Operations Commander Superintendent Grant O'Fee said some officers had learned the language of their team, including Blenheim police sergeant Mike Porter, who will be accompanying the Russian team.