Beatrice Rigoni says the togetherness within Italy’s squad is stronger than ever ahead of the World Cup in New Zealand.
Centre Rigoni believes the squad’s mentality has changed since she made her debut aged just 18 in 2014.
Italy reached the top five of the world rankings for the first time in 2020 a year on from a
second-place finish in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, their best ever performance in the Championship.
And having celebrated a half-century of appearances for the Azzurre during this year’s competition, Rigoni has witnessed first-hand the steady growth in belief and unity.
“There has been a switch,” she said. “Throughout the years, every member of the team has gained awareness in managing challenging situations on the pitch. We’ve learned how to focus on performance.
“The main strength of the team is that we are led by a flow; an emotional connection and collective awareness of what we want to be and what we want to do. Sometimes it helps us get over obstacles and get unexpected results.”
Rigoni, who first picked up a ball at the age of six, says that the prolonged wait for the Covid-delayed Rugby World Cup has only raised anticipation within the camp.
The playmaker’s first Rugby World Cup appearance in 2017 was extra special as she lined up alongside close friend and former Padova teammate, Paola Zangirolamil, who Rigoni says helped to shape her as a player and a person.
Italy finished ninth on that occasion, and Rigoni believes there are several reasons as to why the squad can improve on that position this year.
“There are three elements to our campaign,” she said. “All the players are so eager to take part in it because they have been waiting for at least a year due to the postponement of the tournament.
“Secondly, it’s a big international stage – who wouldn’t like to be part of that?
“Thirdly, all teams are playing in New Zealand, which is the dream of most rugby players – all these ingredients make an amazing recipe.”
The side head into the Rugby World Cup on the back of a topsy-turvy TikTok Women’s Six Nations campaign, with two wins and three defeats leaving them in fifth.
There were mitigating circumstances however, with a number of players and head coach Andrea Di Giandomenico absent due to Covid-19 at different stages of the Championship.
That, Rigoni posits, proved a hurdle too great to overcome in their fixture with Ireland, as they went down 29-8 to a team they were expected to beat.
“An important issue to cope with was being capable of managing the pressure because the game against Ireland was very tough and frustrating,” she said.
“There were many players absent due to Covid and the team wasn’t capable of managing the circumstances.”
An ever-present in the side during the spring, Rigoni was rewarded with a place in the Team of the Championship and no doubt hopes that she will feature in a long and successful Rugby World Cup campaign.
And beyond the upcoming tournament down under, she hopes that Italy can follow in the footsteps of England, Wales and most recently Scotland, in becoming fully professional.
“Growing professionalism is of course beneficial for the game,” she said.
“When the overall level grows, the overall outcome is better and more entertaining. Better preparation leads to better performances.
“I hope that every girl that starts playing rugby can have the feeling that in the future, that it could be her job.”