Ross Vintcent Exclusive: Like Italy, Exeter were written off at the start of the campaign - We’re ready to go again

From BUCS Super Rugby to the Six Nations - It has been quite the year for Ross Vintcent
©Laurie Harbord

Ross Vintcent is the epitome of the new kind of success that the BUCS Super Rugby pathway can provide.

Last season, he played 12 games for Exeter University and made his debut for Exeter Chiefs against Bristol Bears in the Premiership Rugby Cup. This term, he has become a regular for the Chiefs and two starts for Italy in the Six Nations means he is showing no signs of slowing down.

The dynamic backrower has had a breakout campaign for the Chiefs, earning him a spot in the Azzurri squad.

He previously represented Italy at Under-20 level - as well as Italy A against Romania last season - but a couple of injuries in the back-row handed Vintcent an opportunity, and he was named on the bench for his first cap against Ireland. 

He had a dream tournament, with his first start coming against France in that dramatic 13-13 draw in Lille, as well as being part of the sides that beat both Scotland and Wales. 

“I think there were a lot of similarities that I can draw from my experience with Chiefs this year and Italy,” Vintcent tells TRU. 

“Italy were once again written off at the start of this campaign, which was similar to the way things were at the start of this year with Chiefs with the whole exodus at the end of last season of a lot of senior players.

“I think it was great that a lot of youngsters in the Italy squad are getting experience at the highest level, which is just going to be invaluable for the next few years to come, and I think it's already started to pay dividends. It was an unbelievable experience.

“I had a lot of fun memories there, and I was sort of living a dream for two months. It was weird getting back down to earth on the Sunday when we got back from Wales. I just hope I get to be a part of it again.”

Despite the glamour of the Six Nations, a little more than 12 months ago, Vintcent was ripping it up for Exeter University’s 1st XV in BUCS Super Rugby. 

He played 12 games for the green and white machine, scoring four tries in the process and earned himself three Player of the Match awards. Despite the heights he has reached in the game, Vintcent remains a humble university student. He shares a house with plenty of old university teammates, including EURFC centre Dylan Power, who started in the BUCS Super Rugby final against Loughborough last week. 

Vintcent remains a key advocate of the league and helped out on co-commentary on the BUCS live stream for Exeter’s semi-final up on the University’s Rubber Crumb.

“I think BUCS was where I grew a lot as a player,” he says. “Obviously, I'm not the standard back-row player, so I was able to express myself quite freely. The coaches never put pressure on me to play a certain way, which I really enjoyed. I felt like I was able to flourish in that sort of environment.

“BUCS Super Rugby is a highly competitive league and has become a really good pathway. I think they've got it bang on in terms of the set-up, and you're seeing a lot of guys sort of featuring at the top level who have played university rugby. There are the likes of Archie Griffin from Bath, who also played for Wales in the Six Nations, and, of course, Christ Tshiunza and Dafydd Jenkins. It’s just a testament to the quality that BUCS delivers.”

No team in BUCS Super Rugby quite delivers quality players to the Premiership and beyond like Exeter have done.

Not only have they produced the likes of Tom Lawday, Sam Skinner, Tshiunza, and Jenkins in years gone by, but on any given match day this season, a large proportion of the Exeter Chiefs squad is made up of current or former university players.

“I was very lucky to find myself in the whole Exeter pathway and grateful for the opportunities it’s given me,” Vintcent adds.

“The links between Chiefs and the university are very strong, and they're trying to develop as many players as they can and get them into that step up. The university has become a very professional environment; it's perfect for guys who want to take their rugby to the next level and see how they fair in the Premiership Cup and even the Premiership.”

With all the hype around his play, it’s easy to forget that Vintcent is still a second-year university student, completing a BSc in Business Economics. Despite the heavy workload and three in-person exams next term, Vintcent relishes his studies: “I like the fact that there's something that sort of takes me away from rugby a little bit because it does get quite intense week in and week out. It gives me something to keep my mind busy other than rugby, the chance to develop myself, keep my brain active and learn new things.”

Vintcent will put the books down for this weekend as the Chiefs face Gloucester at Kingsholm on Sunday.

The Cherry and Whites haven’t been in top form in the Premiership, but after winning the Premiership Rugby Cup and reaching the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup, it will be a tough fixture for Exeter.

Last time out, Rob Baxter’s troops suffered a disappointing 26-14 loss against Bath at Sandy Park and the week before, they were knocked out of the European Champions Cup by Toulouse. 

Vincent was not in the 23 last week, but it is adamant that the side will take lessons from their defeats: “I think there's a good vibe in the camp. I know it's been a few tough results, but I think the boys have taken that as a learning experience. I mean, we had a tough game against Toulouse, but there were a lot of inexperienced players who gained that sort of experience against one of the top sides in Europe.

“So, whilst the scoreline wasn't so positive, we learned a lot from that, and the same was true with the Bath game. It was in the little moments that we let Bath into the game. It just shows you how tight these games are, especially with the run-in but we are ready to go again on Sunday.”

The Chiefs head into the weekend in seventh place, five points off the play-offs with just three games remaining in the season. After Sunday, they host Harlequins (5th) on May 11th before finishing with a trip to Leicester Tigers (8th).

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