It’s impossible to keep a good man down and just as Italy prepare for a momentous nine months, Matteo Minozzi is fighting fit and ready to spearhead the challenge.
The Rugby World Cup draws closer and following that, the 2020 Guinness Six Nations – the potential for a breakthrough season for Italy and one where they’ll need the best men to the fore.
Minozzi certainly fits that criteria. Out injured for the 2019 Championship that finished up as a case of what might have been, Italy contested several close contests, where the talismanic full-back might just have provided the difference.
The comeback trail
The reason Minozzi provides such hope and excitement for Italy supporters stems from his magnificent 2018 Guinness Six Nations, with the 23-year-old now back in the international fold after missing this year’s edition.
Minozzi has been out for a year with an ACL injury sustained while playing for Zebre but is in Conor O’Shea’s World Cup training squad and participating in training camps in Pergine.
The Padua-born paceman also trained with Wasps this summer, who he signed for at the beginning of the year, and will be in the mix for the Azzurri’s warm-up games.
O’Shea’s men face Ireland (August 10), Russia (August 17), France (August 30) and England (September 6) in the build-up to the World Cup.
The tournament itself begins for Italy with a clash against Namibia in Higashiosaka, followed by Canada and then Southern Hemisphere big guns South Africa and New Zealand.
Whilst in camp, Minozzi commented: “My objective was to be back for this but I had no idea if I would make it. It was a really hard journey, and it’s new for me.
“I’d got to the level I achieved up to then thanks to my talent but I’d never had to work as hard, to take as much care of myself.
“I’ve had to train every day, to train perfectly, to eat well. If I’d not done that, I wouldn’t be here now.
“It’s a little victory, especially in this sport because I’d never been sidelined for such a long period.
“I’m really happy to be here because beyond the opportunity we have now. I missed putting on my boots and getting out on the pitch.”
It was a cruel blow for both player and country for the full-back to miss out on the 2019 Guinness Six Nations, especially after he’d lit up the previous edition with scintillating back-three brilliance.
Minozzi made his international debut in November 2017 before bursting onto the scene of Rugby’s Greatest Championship in 2018, where he scored tries in four successive games.
The elusive full-back, who can also play wing, was named in the Team of the Championship as well as being shortlisted for Player of the Championship – won by Jacob Stockdale that year.
Minozzi’s Round Two score in the corner against Ireland secured a first Test try and a finish to a counter-attack against France his second, while he danced past Liam Williams and Gareth Davies to score against Wales and made Italian history on the final weekend against England – a star was born.
Ready to rise again
Many of the Italian camp spoke of frustration at the end of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations after failing to pick up a win despite promising moments in four of the five games.
Italy totted up as many tries as champions Wales and were within a score in the second half of all three of their home games – but crucially, could not find that elusive victory.
Minozzi possesses the talent that could turn defeats into wins for his country; the potential to become a world star.
The full-back will return to a setup where Jayden Hayward impressed at No.15 in his absence and wing Edoardo Padovani registered with three Championship tries. There will be much interest as to how O’Shea sets up his back three this season.
Scrum-half Tito Tebaldi also impressed in this year’s Guinness Six Nations, as did back row Braam Steyn and locks Federico Ruzza and Dean Budd – Minozzi now returning to provide flourish to the project.
He continued: “All 44 of us have one focus which is to be the best Italian team ever, [achieve] the best-ever result for an Italian team at a World Cup. The ambition is to make the quarter-finals.
“We’re working for Italy so that people remember this squad more than the individuals.
“We want to be remembered for doing something that had never been achieved before.”