Bozzo makes step up from age-grade stardom

Nicola Bozzo
Italy age-grade star Nicola Bozzo is looking a big prospect in the Top 14.

Bursting onto the scene in last year’s U18 Six Nations Festival, Bozzo then went on to turn heads once again during the U20 Six Nations and the Junior World Championship. In fact, so rapid has his progress been that his club, Perpignan, dangled in front of him the possibility of a senior debut ahead of Italy’s last U20s camp, meaning Bozzo stayed with his club.

That long-promised moment finally came in the recent Challenge Cup outing against – fittingly – Benetton, when Bozzo replaced Afusipa Taumoepeau near the hour mark. It was the Treviso outfit who came away victorious, but nonetheless, here was a 19-year-old debuting against a backline that included the like of Azzurri mainstay Nacho Brex. In turning out for Perpignan, Bozzo has followed a path blazed by another Italy stalwart, Tommaso Allan, who was his country’s top scorer at France 2023. Allan had more or less begun his adventure on the slopes of the Pyrenees at the same time as Bozzo has begun his.

Perpignan’s main objective this season is to maintain their Top14 status, in a league they’ve won seven times. The most recent title came in 2009, when at the helm was former Azzurri boss Jacques Brunel, who’s now helping Valorugby Emilia establish themselves as a force in Italian rugby).

Thirteenth in the table – the same result they achieved last year – ahead of Paolo Garbisi's Montpellier, the fact that the club’s ambitions on the European stage this season are secondary make Perpignan an ideal environment for a young player to develop. Bozzo will already have seen the examples of two French talents, Victor Montgaillard and the gigantic Posolo Tuilagi – also graduates of the U18 and U20 system – to know he has an opportunity here.

Adding to all this the fact that the head coach is former Perpignan and France legend David Marty, who used to play the same position as Bozzo, makes it easy to understand why the talented young Genovese, who grew up between Pro Recco and Verona, has opted for the Giallorossi to complete his training and begin his integration into ‘big boy’ rugby.

All things considered, it’s little surprise that the age-grade selectors at FIR would like to see this wunderkind get another run in Massimo Brunello’s U20s in 2024.

After making his Perpignan debut in Treviso, Bozzo was effusive in reacting to the milestone. "I worked hard to be here and I think I deserve it, but overall it was very emotional,” he said. “It was a dream come true and even more special to have been able to realise it in Italy, with my parents, my girlfriend, and friends in the stands.”

Over the past few years, the Azzurrini's record has been a case of five wins and as many defeats, with historic ranking results – second only to Italy's 2019 women's Championship, and several illustrious scalps on the field, such as that of England.

"Dwelling so much on past achievements can sometimes be as damaging as they can be good,” says Bozzo. “We’ve had great times, including last year, but now we can only think about the present. This is a really strong group and that can make the difference in our case, like it did in the Junior World Championship against South Africa. They were terrible weather conditions and we knew it was going to be a tough challenge, but we managed to get something good from it.

The goal now is to return to that Stadio Monigo field on which he made his Perpignan debut, but this time wearing the blue jersey of the national U20 team.