The next generation of Italians coming through are beginning to make waves.
Childhoods spoiled by watching legends like Sergio Parisse, the Bergamasco brothers, Alessandro Zanni and Martin Castrogiovanni have certainly inspired future stars to take over the mantle in Italian rugby.
A crop of budding youngsters are now coming through the ranks under the watchful eye of Franco Smith as he looks to a new generation of talent to rise to the challenge.
Here we have picked out four youngsters who have already demonstrated they possess the ability and the talent to become Guinness Six Nations stars for years to come.
Since making his debut against Scotland in the Autumn Nations Cup last year, Jacopo Trulla has been a live wire in Italy’s backline.
The Zebre full-back had a fruitful time in the Italy Under-20 set-up, registering six tries in a dozen games – three apiece in the U20s Six Nations Championship in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Now, the 20-year-old believes the senior team are “improving all the time” and his contribution to Monty Ioane’s superb score against England in Round 2 of this year’s Championship was an example of the quality the No. 15 can produce.
While Trulla, who can also turn out on either wing, has yet to cross the whitewash himself in an Italy jersey for the senior side, the Vicenza-born back is certainly one for the future.
Trulla’s youth team captain was none other than fellow back Paolo Garbisi.
The Benetton No. 10 was integral to the young Italians’ rise in recent years, helping them secure victories over Wales and Scotland in the U20s Six Nations Championship. He also featured in a memorable U18s victory over England in 2018.
Garbisi, who was inspired growing up by watching All Black legend Dan Carter and England captain Owen Farrell, first caught the eye of the rugby world when he orchestrated a pair of victories over Scotland and Georgia at the World Rugby U20 Championship in 2019.
Now a regular the senior squad since making his breakthrough in 2020, Garbisi’s dynamism will be pivotal to Italy’s future aspirations as he looks to mastermind the Azzurri to victories on the world stage.
In this year’s Guinness Six Nations, the fly-half has slotted all seven of his kicks at goal, proving to be a reliable asset from the tee, while he has also steered the attack with the confidence of a player with many more caps to his name.
Another graduate of the youth set-up is Gloucester Rugby’s Stephen Varney. The scrum-half made his debut against Wales in the Autumn Nations Cup and has settled into the No.9 jersey with ease.
The Welsh-born Italian has been a shining light for Gloucester in the last year and inflicted misery on the country of his birth in his man-of-the-match performance for Italy in last year’s opening game of the U20s Six Nations Championship – a feat he also achieved at U18 level.
A former student at Hartpury College, Varney’s exuberant partnership with Garbisi could act as a foundation block for the Azzurri for years to come.
The 19-year-old half-back has been kept busy so far, tallying 241 passes in total – the second-highest total in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championship.
Another intake from the Italians’ recent success at junior level, Gianmarco Lucchesi has been fast-tracked to the senior squad at just 20 years of age.
Smith: Italy continuing to move in right direction despite Wales defeat
The hooker has made three substitute appearances for Smith’s men so far this Championship, replacing captain Luca Bigi on each occasion. The apprenticeship under Bigi will serve Lucchesi well as he looks to add depth to the Italian pack.
With starts for his club Benetton, the Pisa-born front-rower has already shown an eye for the tryline having crossed twice in four appearances in the Guinness PRO14 this season.
Like the rest of the names here, Lucchesi started for the U20 Italy side that beat Wales at Colwyn Bay last year. He also featured in the team’s narrow defeats to Scotland and France in the same Championship and looks set to have a long future in the Azzurri pack.