This is new Sale Sharks recruit Beatrice Rigoni’s first taste of living abroad. Her principal aim? To hone her skills and grow as a player for the benefit of the national team. She has been deployed in both the midfield and at fly-half in the recent past, but it’s at centre that Rigoni – along with former Valsugana teammate Emma Stevanin – is increasingly making her presence felt.
"In England, the environment is completely different, and everyone has the time to be professional,” says the 28-year-old. “There isn’t a single member of the Sale staff who doesn’t work full-time. The facilities are incredible, state-of-the-art – the same as where the men's team actually trains. And that’s not to mention everything around preparation, from rehabilitation to extremely in-depth analysis of opponents. In practice, we know everything about who we will face before even stepping onto the field."
Her move away from home has required some inevitable adjustments, but after just a couple of weeks she was already a fully-fledged member of the Sharks group.
"I get along very well with my teammates. There are ten of us in the same house, and they are all a bit crazy like me. There were some difficulties in the first week in not being able to express myself properly – especially being someone who talks a lot on the field! But it didn’t take much to integrate. If I have to think of a negative, I'd say the cold. In fact, the first thing I bought in Manchester was a new jacket."
A significant helping hand came from a familiar face: Sale and Italy teammate Sara Tounesi. "Having her here was very helpful and one of the reasons behind my move,” explains Rigoni. “Not having to play against Sara Tounesi was another reason! The possibility of an overseas experience fascinated me too, and I believe it can be stimulate my development.”
The next Rugby World Cup will be hosted by England in 2025, and at Sale Rigoni can rely on a Red Rose legend and World Cup-winning captain Katy Daley-McLean for guidance.
"The plan for now is to stay here for a season and not look too far ahead,” says Rigoni, who’s very much taking it one thing at a time. “I often compare myself with Katy, and she's helping me a lot in improving my kicking game and maintaining constant concentration – an area in which I’ve sometimes struggled. “The more high-level matches you play, the better, because then you're more ready for international rugby. The next Six Nations and WXV will be crucial for the World Cup qualification. As a national team, we must inhabit the mindset of always being competitive, always scoring points and conceding as few as possible."
This also reflects the change in leadership last year between the man recognised by many as being the driving force behind Italian women's rugby, Andrea Di Giandomenico, and new head coach Giovanni Raineri. What are the primary differences between the two men?
Rigoni responds: "I think we’re becoming braver in our kicking play, while sometimes we need to improve on our tendency to focus too much on certain structures instead of assessing the situation that’s right in front of us."
Rigoni is enjoying taking the athlete-student path, with her pharmacy degree in full swing. She’s also following in her mother's footsteps after transferring between the universities of Ferrara and Padua. Thanks to her family, she keeps up to date with her former team’s progress.
"We’re in daily contact, and they practically send me the press reports about Valsugana every day,” she says. “My parents often go to watch the home games. I think my choice to move to Sale was a good one for them too because it gives some of the younger girls a great opportunity to emerge and develop quicker in my absence. I’m sure Bez [Nicola Bezzati, the Paduan coach and former Petrarca flanker] and the staff will do their usual excellent job."
All this in a period of profound change in the structure of women's rugby, both in Italy and worldwide, with the birth of new competitions, but above all, increasIngly widespread professionalism.
"It helps to be truly be able to concentrate one hundred per cent on the rugby,” says Rigoni. “Just look at the progress made by Wales thanks to the support that the girls are now getting from the Welsh Rugby Union. We are almost there, and we hope that every year we can take one more step in the right direction. Then, it all depends on the players and their individual ability to take this and turn it into something positive.
“Certainly, the game benefits in general, and I believe it was the right choice also not to create too many disparities as has happened in the past between those who are truly professional and those who aren’t."
As befits one of the game’s more outlandish characters, Rigoni has a few special game day rituals. "In Biella, before the World Cup match against France, I felt hungry, so at halftime I put almonds in my socks,” she says. “Then, after almonds, I switched to sweets, which are tastier. It just became something that I continue to do, and of course, I put them in my socks because they are more easily accessible.” Of course…
When the newly-named Guinness Women’s Six Nations gets underway at the end of March, Rigoni will come up against friends in every nation.
"The tournament will be even more incredible than usual because I now play in the English championship, and I have several teammates who are part of the Scottish national team, and we’ll be facing England and Scotland at home in Italy,” she reflects. “As always, it’ll be an exciting tournament, and I can't wait to step onto the field."