TREVISO — In modern rugby, being a 23-year-old back-row debutant at pro level is nothing new nor special.
But rising Zimbabwe-born Italian rugby player Sebastian Luke Negri da Oleggio, the abrasive Benetton Treviso newcomer, is one of the few internationals in his early 20s who has represented a major union club while not playing in a top tier competition.
In June 2016 the Marondera, Zimbabwe native was called up by Italy coach Conor O’Shea to join the Azzurri as injury cover of now-teammate Braam Steyn during the mid-year tour of the Americas while he was still at Hartpury University in England.
He won his first two caps coming off the bench against USA and Canada, winning both.
Last January he landed a contract with Benetton Treviso and joined the green-and-whites in the summer on a two-year deal, but his trip to Italy started a long time ago.
Negri was born in Marondera, where he attended Springvale House for his early primary education before moving to South Africa, where he started building his career in rugby at Clifton Nottingham School.
He then went on a scholarship to Hilton College and ended up maturing through key experiences with the Natal Sharks and Western Province Academies at provincial level.
Being one of a few talented international young prospects with Italian heritage (his father is from Milan), he was approached by former Italy playmaker Roland De Marigny in 2013 and ended up playing for the Azzurrini at the IRB Junior World Trophy in Chile where the Italians earned their way back to the Under-20 top tier.
Since then, he has represented the country in the Under-20 Six Nations and in the Junior World Championship in New Zealand in 2014, winning six caps for Emerging Italy (Italy’s second team) and two with the Azzurri while playing in England for Hartpury College and Hartpury RFC.
Standing at 195cm and 110kg, he can cover both the second and back row of the scrum and that makes him a special profile in the highly-competitive professional set-up.
But while he is a capable lock, it is at flanker that he perhaps has the most potential, although he could well end up at No.8. A powerful ball carrier, Negri combines unexpected speed and agility with two educated hands that allow him to work brilliantly in open play as well as in the offload area.
In his first year he is definitely one of the new acquisitions Benetton Treviso will monitor closely as he possesses all the qualities to become a regular member of the Italian national team in a not so distant future.