Italy's Polledri, from Bristol sandwich shop to World Cup star

Shizuoka (Japan) (AFP) –


Jake Polledri's heady rise from working at a sandwich shop in western England to turning out for Italy at the World Cup continues unabated after his man-of-the-match performance against Canada bagged him a starting spot against South Africa.

The 23-year-old Bristol-born flanker put in an eye-catching shift in Italy's 48-7 win over the Canadians, beating 14 defenders during the Pool B game in Fukuoka, more than any other forward in a single game since the tournament first began in 1987.

He also ran 106 metres from 16 carries, with three clean breaks and four offloads.

Polledri admitted he still had to pinch himself over his journey from making sandwiches to playing for Hartpury in the English National One (third division) just two years ago, before being picked up by Premiership outfit Gloucester.

"It's pretty amazing, playing in the World Cup is unbelievable," he said.

"I haven't played South Africa before... It's a hell of an experience to be playing them, let alone in a World Cup."

Polledri, whose father Peter was a Bristol stalwart back in the 1980s, qualifies for Italy through his paternal grandmother, a fully fledged "old school" Italian who still struggles with her English.

Her grandson is still learning Italian, though he credits a raft of English speakers in the Italy squad as making life much easier as he cracks on with language lessons.

- 'Dedication, determination, desire' -

Former Hartpury director of rugby Alan Martinovic was full of praise after the Canada game for the "dedication, determination and desire to get to the top" of not just Polledri but also Seb Negri, another former player at the club who was named on the bench for the Springbok game.

Polledri, who even made a decisive pass which set up a try for Negri against Canada, said the team had been "very positive" about that game.

"The first game was very scrappy for us in terms of structure," he said in reference to their opening 47-22 victory over Namibia.

"The second game against Canada we looked a lot better and played a lot more how we wanted to play."

With a maximum 10 points in the bag thanks to try-scoring bonuses, Polledri said: "There's nothing more really you can ask for."

As for South Africa, he said the Boks were "looking strong. It's going to be a good test, but that's why we're here, to play against the best sides and the best players in the world".

"It's going to be a tough battle. I imagine it's going to be a forwards game otherwise you wouldn't go for that 6/2 forwards/backs split on the bench," Polledri said.

"They're playing well, they're on a bit of a streak at the moment. It's going to be hard for us but we've just got to go out there and do what we do."

Competition in the back row, he added, had been fierce.

"Everyone's hat was in the ring for selection," he said, with skipper Sergio Parisse and Abraham Steyn set to start alongside him in the back row.

Asked whether he might have picked up some Afrikaans at Gloucester -- where he is coached by Johan Ackermann and has a handful of South African teammates, including current Bok lock Franco Mostert -- that might help to decipher South Africa's moves, Polledri was blunt.

"I'll concentrate on learning Italian first!"