- Sebastian Negri won his first senior cap for Italy in June 2016
- The Hartpury captain was signed by Benetton Treviso last week
- Follow all the results from BUCS Super Rugby and National One
Since an academy stint at South African juggernaut Western Province in 2013, Sebastian Negri’s rugby stock has risen exponentially. The 22-year-old has an international cap and a professional contract, but isn't leaving Hartpury until he bags two sets of silverware and a degree.
The Zimbabwe-born backrower has been plying his trade in Gloucestershire for the last three years, and as his academic career draws to a conclusion, he aims to finish his time in the West Country on a high.
Negri has been part of a remarkable season under the Hartpury banner. The university side he captains have lost just one game, and find themselves joint top of the BUCS Super Rugby table with a game-in-hand.
Similarly, club side Hartpury College RFC are unbeaten in 17 games and sit perched atop National League One, with 23 points separating them from second placed Birmingham Moseley.
“I want to do the double,” says Negri. “It is going to be a tough challenge to win the BUCS Super Rugby competition, as there are a lot of good players and good teams in it.
“But doing that, and helping RFC gain promotion to the Championship would be a dream way to finish off my time here.
“I want to give everything for Hartpury; they have given me a lot. Hopefully both can be achieved, and I can leave on a high note.”
Hartpury University hasn’t won the BUCS Super Rugby competition since 2014, when they beat Leeds Beckett 28-24, but Negri insists that his team is good enough to achieve the feat this year.
“Obviously the team’s ambition and main goal is to get to Twickenham,” he added.
“The Christmas break came at a good time, and the sessions we’ve had this week have been great. The guys are looking fresh, and they're ready to get a big result against Leeds next week.”
Both Hartpury squads’ train together during the week, and five members of the university side regularly turn out for the National One team on a Saturday. An arrangement Negri is in favour of.
“We have the same systems, so if you get called up for the Saturday side, the transition is almost seamless,” he said.
“We all train together, we are all friends, and that winning culture feeds into the university team. I think that is important - everyone is on the same page.”
The Italian Job
Negri is eligible to play for Italy - because of his parentage - and was selected for the Emerging Italy squad that travelled to Romania last summer to contest the World Rugby Nations Cup.
After beating Uruguay and losing to Argentina A, Negri received a call from Italy head coach Conor O’Shea, who asked him to join the national side immediately on their tour of north America, as injury cover.
“It was very surreal,” he said. “I used to watch these guys on T.V and I was there with them thinking, ‘I’m still at uni’, so that whole experience of playing alongside guys you look up to was just mind-blowing.”
Negri replaced Maxime Mbanda at blindside flanker to earn his first international cap, as the Azzuri downed the USA 24-20, and a week later, he featured in the 20-18 triumph over Canada in Toronto.
“It is an exciting time for Italian rugby with Conor and Mike Catt in charge,” says Negri. “They are bringing in new coaches, new systems and as a result, there is now a new belief within the camp - especially after that huge win against South Africa in November.”
"The Pro 12 excites me"
In a bid to fulfil his ambition of playing for Italy, Negri inked a two-year professional contract with Pro 12 side Benetton Treviso, last week. Seb’s brother, Tom – a former Hartpury University student – is also his agent, and facilitated the deal.
“Tom has my best interests at heart, and after seeking the advice of a lot of senior coaches, I decided that Benetton was the right move for me,” he said.
“I want to play for Italy again so I want to be in the country, become more familiar with the language, learn about Italian rugby and be closer to the set-up.
“I know there will be a lot to learn, with bumps along the way, but stepping up into the Pro 12 excites me.”
Negri will link up with his new outfit on 1 July, but until then, his focus remains fixed on the remainder of his university and club seasons, as well as completing his Sports Business Management degree.
“I’m really pleased that everything has been sorted out, as I now have five months left to give the best I possibly can to Hartpury.”