Varney set for Italy debut in Six Nations against Ireland, England

Milan (AFP) –


Welsh-born Gloucester scrum-half Stephen Varney has been called up for the first time by Italy for Six Nations games against Ireland and England later this month, coach Franco Smith said on Tuesday.

South African Smith named a 33-man preliminary squad, including seven newcomers, for postponed fixtures against the Irish on October 24 in Dublin and England on October 31 in Rome.

Varney is one of six players to move up from Italy's U20 set-up. The 19-year-old will compete for a starting berth with former Gloucester teammate Callum Braley, now at Treviso, and Zebre's Marcello Violi.

Veteran Leonardo Ghiraldini, 35, has been included with the 104-times capped hooker, lining up alongside newcomer Gianmarco Lucchesi, 20, and captain Luca Bigi, 29.

"We have a group with a mix of athletes with great experience who perfectly know the value of the blue jersey and young rugby players who have already tasted what it means to represent Italy at youth level and are eager to emerge on the international scene," said Franco.

Italy fell to a 25th consecutive defeat in the tournament last time out with a 17-0 loss to Scotland in Rome in February and were set to take the wooden spoon for the 15th time when the coronavirus pandemic stopped the tournament in March.