Italy head coach Franco Smith named a training squad on Tuesday for the resumption of the test season which will see Italy close off their Six Nations campaign against Ireland and England before the Autumn Nations Cup.
A somewhat surprising name in the squad was that of Gloucester scrumhalf Stephen Varney who has been impressing for Gloucester in recent weeks in the Premiership.
Varney has enjoyed a rapid rise in the Gloucester ranks under George Skivington and has made 7 appearances for the Cherry and Whites since his debut against London Irish in February this year.
He joins former Gloucester teammate Callum Braley in the Italy training squad but unlike Braley, Varney played for Italy's u20s. Braley made his test debut for Azzurri last year having captained England u20s and while Varney was born in Wales, he opted to represent Italy.
He also represented Italy at the u18 Six Nations where he came off the bench against Wales to score two tries in 34-13 victory. The teenager was also named man of the match in Italy's Under-20 win against Wales in Colwyn Bay in January 2020. The 19-year-old has become a key member of the Gloucester side, particularly since the resumption of the season. He scored a try off the bench in Gloucester's first game back against Worcester before doing the same to Bristol and earning a start against Saracens where he scored his third in as many games.
So how does Varney qualify for Italy?
Varney is the son of former Neath and Aberavon flanker Adrian Varney but qualifies for Italy through his mother Valeria. His mother was born in west Wales, but both of her parents were born in Italy, hence his eligibility.
“My great-grandfather was an Italian prisoner of war over here at a camp near Newcastle Emlyn,” he told WalesOnline.
“After the war, he stayed on and lived on a farm with his wife.”
Varney gave up on rugby after missing out on the Scarlets' pathway system after featuring for the west u16s turning his attention to golf.
However, he started playing again when he went to Hartpury College to start his studies. His form there saw him being offered a place with the Gloucester RFC Academy.
On Tuesday when Franco Smith named his training squad he explained that he is looking to the future with seven uncapped players named in the squad.
“We have a good mixture of experienced individuals – who know the value of the blue jersey – and young rugby players who have come through the ranks and have the desire to emerge on the international scene.
“These camps play a key role in forming a pathway for the younger athletes and creating a solid basis for the present and future of the national team.” he said.
The scrumhalves included in his squad are a good example of Italy looking to the future with Varney's former Gloucester teammate Callum Braley, now at Treviso, and Zebre's Marcello Violi both boasting less than 20 caps and are both 26-years-old.