By Cecilia Canazza
Giovanbattista Venditti could be forgiven for pinching himself to check he hasn’t imagined the last few months, having made his Test debut for Italy in the opening game of the Six Nations and scored tries against England and Scotland in Rome.
With his debut against Les Bleus at the Stade de France, the wing, who plays for Aironi in the RaboDirect PRO12, became the first player to add his name to the growing list of Junior World Championship graduates in 2012.
“‘It has been a sensational year for me. Stepping up into the national side is a great honour, the group has welcomed me in an amazing manner and I am very grateful to the coaching staff for giving me this opportunity,” admitted Venditti, the ninth Italian JWC graduate.
“To debut on a prestigious stage like the Six Nations is unbelievable, the first games have been so exciting, especially when I stepped onto the field and actually realised who I was playing against!”
Venditti was among a number of young players catapulted into the spotlight of Test rugby by new Italian coach Jacques Brunel, who took over from Nick Mallett after Rugby World Cup 2011.
“Jacques has great experience and is very determined, he knows what he wants to achieve within this team and he’s putting a lot of effort into bringing us closer as group,” explained the now 22-year-old.
“He has demonstrated a lot of trust in the young players, and as he has done with me, (Edoardo) Gori, (Tommaso) Benvenuti and many others he will do with the next generation of players. He doesn’t give special consideration to anyone when it comes to picking his squad, he’s open to everyone and with him every training is a chance to prove yourself.
“I believe this attitude will strengthen the Italian rugby movement a lot, giving the young players of today and tomorrow a lot more opportunities and motivation.”
Tries to remember
Fresh from his debut in Brunel’s first game in charge against France, Venditti didn’t have long to wait for his first Test try, crossing the whitewash against England in a match Italy certainly had their chances in and should have celebrated a first ever win in the fixture.
Another try followed for the then shaven headed wing in Italy’s final Six Nations match, which proved to be the only try of the match as the Azzurri ran out 13-6 winners at the Stadio Olimpico to avoid another dreaded wooden spoon.
“My first try at the Stadio Olimpico was a dream come true. When I stood up and heard the roar of the crowd I got goose bumps, and then Tommy’s (Benvenuti) try straight after really made us believe we could take that game home,” recalled Venditti.
“Against Scotland I was a lot more nervous and it didn’t really hit me until the game was over, but I’ve watched the try over and over and being at the Stadio Olimpico with all of our supporters definitely made everything even more special.”
The fact that Venditti and Benvenuti, former Italy Under 20 teammates, both crossed against England probably made his first Test try all the more special, considering the pair have a try-scoring competition between them.
“We have been playing together for so many years now, since our year at the Academy and we’ve been lucky to score a lot of tries. Every game either one or the other would score so in time we started competing on who scored the most tries.
“We never got too competitive but it always served as an extra motivation on the field!”
Venditti and Benvenuti were part of the Italian Under 20 side at the IRB Junior World Championship 2009 in Japan, a tournament which saw the Azzurrini finish 13th and subsequently drop down to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy after a restructuring of the competitions.
“Being part of the JWC squad has definitely been the most significant experience of my youth on a personal level. Being away from home for a whole month under great pressure and with no breaks has been very intense and a great life lesson,” recalled Venditti, who like Benvenuti scored two tries at JWC 2009.
“I have great memories of Japan, we spent a great month together as a team, and I’m still very close to all the boys on that squad. I had never travelled so far or to such a different country. The setting and the hospitality of Japanese people really made it awesome for all of us.”
“I remember all of the games as if it was yesterday. We had the chance of playing against top teams and for the first time we faced the southern hemisphere teams. My enthusiasm was at a peak.
“Obviously we left with great disappointment for our loss against Fiji which ruled us out of the elite group, but we took home two great victories against Canada and Japan that still made us proud.
“From a rugby perspective it is an amazing scene, at such a young age you already get the opportunity of measuring yourself against great champions, allowing you to step up to those standards.”
The Junior World Championship continues to go from strength to strength each year and Venditti knows it won’t be easy for the Italians in South Africa next month with pool matches against the hosts, England and Ireland.
The target for coach Craig Green and his players will be to replicate their 11th place finish on home soil in 2011, victory over Tonga in the relegation play-off meaning they avoided an immediate return to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy they won the previous year.
“The Under 20 age group level is getting higher and higher every year and the JWC is becoming a more prestigious international stage on which we can see an increasing number of players from the top leagues.
“It is now a fundamental stepping stone for players and a launching point for their careers.
“The Azzurrini are a strong and very united team, they’re all great guys and good rugby players. It’s a pity that they didn’t manage to obtain great results during the Six Nations. If they play their best they really deserve to reach, and maybe exceed their goals in South Africa, and I wish them all the best.”
Venditti was this week named in Italy’s squad for their tour of the Americas next month which will include Tests against Argentina in San Juan (9 June), USA in Houston (16 June) and Canada in Toronto (23 June).
“Being selected in the national squad is always an honour and playing abroad is very stimulating,” admitted Venditti. “We’ll be facing three tough and physical games. Argentina is always tough to beat, while USA and Canada are teams that are developing very quickly.
“With no international activity since the Rugby World Cup these teams have been preparing for us for a long time. We are aware it’s not going to be an easy ride, but will give it our best.”