Michela Sillari, one of the Azzurre’s most experienced players, knows more than many what it takes to win at the fortress of Welsh rugby. The Valsugana Rugby Padova centre, 30, made her Test debut in the 2012 Women’s Six Nations. Today, she boasts over 80 caps and is the Azzurre’s second highest try-scorer.
We reached her on the phone to discuss Italy's future prospects, with an eye on that closing match of the 2024 Championship in Cardiff.
How happy are you to have the chance to return to the home of Welsh rugby?
Playing in a stadium that you normally see on TV always has an effect, even if I'm lucky enough to have already done it twice before. It's a fantastic stage, and it will be an added incentive to do well.
It was there in 2018 that you scored the try that sealed Italy's victory with time almost up. What are your memories of that day?
A lot of happiness, together with a sense of revenge given that we had lost there in 2012. There was a lot of desire to do well, especially on the part of us "old" players who had played in that previous match. Now the balance at the Principality Stadium is one to one, so let's hope that it will soon be two to one in our favour.
You had some memorable moments against Wales, including scoring the decisive kick to win the 2022 Six Nations encounter. How do you think the match in Cardiff will go?
It's always tough against Wales. The games are very close and generally the difference in the final score is minimal. In the last Six Nations it didn't go well – we lost 10-36 at home – so the desire to redeem ourselves is great.
In 2018, more than 11,000 people attended the match at the Principality Stadium, as part of a double-header with the men's national team. What would you say to encourage even more people to go to the stadium in 2024?
The weather will certainly be better, given that it will be played at the end of April instead of the beginning of March! Jokes aside, in recent years the level of women's rugby has grown a lot, thanks in large part to investments from the federations and unions. The technical level has definitely risen and the matches are more fun to watch.
In the 2016/2017 season you lived and played in the United Kingdom, winning the championship with Aylesford Bulls (now Harlequins Women). Can you tell us what that experience was like?
First of all, I must say that fortunately many things have changed since I was in England. I wanted to have an experience in a league where the level of rugby played was higher than in Italy, and from that point of view it gave me a lot. However, I have some regrets about going there before the real explosion of the Premiership as we know it today.
Back then, all the players were purely amateur. I worked 40 hours a week in a fast food restaurant to pay the rent, so I wasn't able to fully concentrate on rugby like my international teammates who play in England now do.
A new generation of talent is making its way into the Italian group who can continue the great work of you and your teammates. Which of these players has impressed you in particular?
There are several players who are still ‘registered’ young and have been with us for several years, so mentioning the names of Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi, Alyssa D'Incà or Francesca Sgorbini would be almost too obvious. Among the girls who have recently joined the group, however, I say Emma Stevanin, who plays fly-half for my club, Valsugana Rugby Padova.
Women’s Six Nations tickets for Wales v Italy at Principality Stadium on 27th April can be purchased here.