Rugby-Welsh-born Varney hopes Netflix series can end doubts over Italy credentials

  • Rugby
  • Friday, 23 Feb 2024

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2023 - Italy Training - Groupama Stadium, Lyon, France - September 28, 2023 Italy's Stephen Varney during training REUTERS/Paul Childs/ File photo

(Reuters) - Stephen Varney will earn his 27th Italy cap if he comes off the bench against France on Sunday and the Welsh-born scrumhalf feels he shouldn't need to prove his Italian heritage at this stage of his career, but maybe his Netflix appearance can help.

Varney at 22-years-old is already playing in his fourth Six Nations Championship and despite being involved with Italy since Under-18 level, some still question his right to play for the country.

"A lot of Italians probably say I'm not Italian, but what right have they to say that because I've got Italian in my blood, I have family still in Italy, so I find it quite disrespectful," Varney told Reuters.

"I'm proud to play for my mother's country."

Perhaps, if they realised his middle name is Lorenzo, his Italian roots would be clearer, and Varney's mother's parents both came from Italy separately before meeting in Wales.

"My great-grandfather was a prisoner of war, he got caught in Africa by the British army and he was brought over to Henllan in west Wales," Varney said.

"After the war he got released and brought his family over, which included my grandmother, and then my grandfather came over when he was 17 to work and they met here."

The Netflix series "Full Contact" featured Varney and the crew spent time in Wales with his family, something which should open some Italian eyes to his roots and also to the sport itself.

"Hopefully, that showed my Italian grandparents and hopefully that will bond well with the Italian fans," he said.

"It was a good experience, probably a good thing for rugby, because it needs that publicity, and I think it's good for Italian rugby.

"It got some really good exposure in the series and hopefully more Italians watch it and then get involved in the sport, because it is very football orientated out here."

For someone who grew up in Wales, and with a Welsh father, Varney made the decision to commit to Italy very early in his career, while still at a university with a strong rugby pedigree.

Hartpury has produced the likes of England prop Ellis Genge, former England wing Jonny May, Louis Rees-Zammit who recently left the Wales set-up for the NFL, and Italy flanker Sebastian Negri.

"I was at Hartpury when I was playing under-18s and they've always had good connections with Italy, the same at Gloucester with Jake Polledri and Callum Braley playing for Italy whilst I was in the academy," Varney explained.

"Italy came knocking early doors, they gave me an opportunity to play for them and I'm grateful for that and to be wearing the Azzurri blue.

"My Dad is Welsh so obviously I think he'd prefer me to play for Wales, but it was my decision in the end and Wales didn't come knocking and Italy did."

Italy have lost their opening two games, and after running England close, going down 27-24, a 36-0 defeat in Ireland was a disappointing result. France away is next and Varney is well aware that they need a win sometime soon.

"We've come through this process the last two years, and I think we got a little bit of respect and credibility back from the rugby world and the Italian fans," he said.

"Now is the time to get some victories, we've been putting in good performances but just not getting over the line."

(Reporting by Trevor Stynes; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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