Seb Negri Column: There is a lot of excitement to be back on the biggest stage in Europe

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In his latest TRU column, Benetton and Italy’s Seb Negri reflects on the Rugby World Cup as well as his experience in Japan plus, he discusses the Pro14 and the upcoming European Champions Cup.

Hopefully the World Cup will be a springboard for Japan

The World Cup was an incredible experience and a surreal one. I made a lot of memories. It is definitely something I will carry with me for the rest of my life and tell the family and kids about, for sure.

From the first day we arrived to the day we left, the organisation and hospitality of the Japanese people was amazing.

To have a World Cup in Japan was very, very special. Everyone bought into it. You walk out to try and get a coffee, but we were getting stopped by people on the streets! It was a real warm atmosphere.

It was a great World Cup, but what was great about it was that it was a Japanese World Cup and an Asian one. It was completely different to the norm of other World Cups and it was done in a completely different way too. That made it special and unique and it was a dream to be a part of. Hopefully Asian rugby can kick on now because I think this is just the beginning.

The way things ended for us was bittersweet

I think we showcased again that against the teams around us in the ‘rankings’, we were able to put them away. I think the big disappointed was against South Africa where we didn’t really emphasis our game plan. Things didn’t really go to plan that day, but if I look back on the experience in terms of results and the way we performed as a team, I think there were highs and lows.

I think that game against Canada, we really showcased the future of Italy to the public. If you looked at that side, there were a lot of youngsters. That game was probably the highlight and probably our best performance of the tournament. As always, there will be positives to take but there were a couple of bumps along the way and things to learn from. Obviously, we were disappointed with the way it finished as we did not get the chance to play New Zealand. It was frustrating and for all of us, and it was a bittersweet ending.

Club duty

It was always going to a be tough start to the season for us. I think there was 14 Benetton players away at the World Cup so for us to come back, it was really important that we helped the team.

For me and one or two others, we didn’t get a break. We literally came back from Japan, arrived on the Tuesday, settled into Italy for three or four days and then we were back in training getting ready for the game against the [Southern] Kings.

It is really good to be back. I think I have been involved in the last three games and we have won two and lost one against Scarlets. That game could have gone either way so it is a positive step. I think we are on the right path now. Yes, there will be ups and downs but I think the season and the next couple will be really positive for the club.

Dining at Europe’s top table

Kieran [Crowley] our coach said to us in the meeting, this is the first time we have been in the Champions Cup on merit. I think that is really positive and we do have that European experience after being in the Challenge Cup last year. We have played against some of the best teams in Europe and we got results. We competed really well so it is another big opportunity for a lot of us to showcase our abilities and show Europe that Benetton are a team to consider and not a side that can be pushed over easily.

We are in to compete. We have got a tough group, but we are looking forward to the challenge and there is a lot of excitement to be back on the biggest stage in Europe.

Leinster, Northampton and Lyon await

It is important we enjoy the experience and enjoy the fact we are back at the top, but no second guessing, we really want to stamp our authority and showcase the journey Benetton are on. I think we have done that in the last 12-18 months or so. We have made significant strides since I arrived at the club and we want to continue that hard work and continue in the same way. There is no better opportunity to do that than playing in the Champions Cup against some of the best teams in Europe.

That’s why we play the game. You want to be playing against the best teams and best players in the world. There is no better opportunity to do it than against Leinster who are top of their pool in the Pro14. Northampton [Saints] have made a really strong start to the Premiership season and Lyon are flying in the Top 14 so we are relishing this chance and we are looking forward to the next couple of weeks.

Seb Negri was speaking to TRU’s Chris Heal

 

2018-19 European Rugby Champions Cup Points Table