When thinking about players exiting the English Premiership, one’s mind often ventures to the south of France, maybe Marseille, perhaps Toulon or even Toulouse. Skipping under the radar somewhat are those players heading even further south – down to Italy.
Sitting just above Venice, one club in particular has caught the attention of many former English Premiership stars, Benetton Rugby. The north-east Italian side are off to a flyer this year, having achieved their greatest start to the United Rugby Championship since their introduction in 2010. Heading into late December, Benetton Rugby currently sit comfortably in fifth place with five wins, one draw and one loss.
We sat down with Benetton scrum-half Andy Uren to discuss the ways of life in Italy.
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Uren departed Bristol in only June of this year after being a part of the club since the age of 13. Admitting that he had “never really left Bristol” before moving to Italy, the 27-year-old explained that the new culture – whilst amazing – has still taken a bit of getting used to. Andy spoke very fondly of the city he was born in, and many Bristolians will find humour in his evaluation of the Italian climate, “it’s a nice break from the rain, the weather’s so much better, it’s crazy” he exclaimed.
Chilling out in his Treviso apartment right in the heart of the city, dressed in a comfy black hoody, Uren joked that living in Italy was “definitely different to England weather-wise” before adding that the move was a “good challenge” and that he was “enjoying it”.
Speaking about trying to adapt to the local way of life, Uren pointed out that although he is trying to learn Italian, it’s not been a smooth process, admitting that the language is much harder to learn than expected. Fortunately, in the diverse club that Benetton has become, the meetings do cater for both Italian and English translations.
Whilst Bristol had their own diverse crowd of players, that appears to be where the similarities between the two clubs stop. When asked to explain the differences, Andy tells us that on the pitch Benetton is a lot more player-led, rather than Bristol which was more structured. “If we see something is on we can take it”, Andy explained. “It’s more down to the boys on the pitch and how we’re feeling, situation-wise.”
Uren has formed a strong alliance with halfback partner Jacob Umaga since arriving, explaining that the former Wasps man “knows how he wants to play the game” which allows the two to work together well. Speaking about the Benetton fly half, Uren felt that whilst he was an impressive player at Wasps, Umaga has matured into a more developed player since being at Benetton. The nephew of All Black legend Tana Umaga is now taking on leadership roles that he would perhaps not have done so a couple of years ago.
Continuing the discussion on leadership roles, Uren described his opportunity to now step into a senior role at Benetton as a “breath of fresh air” following his scrum-half rivalry with former England starter Harry Randall. The pair, who share no clear animosity towards each other, were in obvious competition for the number nine shirt at Bristol. Despite Uren picking up numerous Player of the Match awards and becoming a firm fan favourite during the periods when Randall was away on England duty, it was Randall who eventually got the favour of the coach, Pat Lam.
When asked whether his performances in a Bristol shirt ever got him on the radar of Eddie Jones, Andy claimed to be aware that he was being kept an eye on, but it was the ‘x-factor’ tap and goes of Harry Randall that truly caught the attention of Jones. Uren was perhaps not the most thrown-around name when it came to choosing England’s next number nine, but many Bristol fans in particular would argue that perhaps he should have been given the chance. Either way, now unavailable for selection, Uren said that being called up would have been “great“, but that his primary focus has always been doing the best he can for his club.
Speaking about his decision to leave his hometown club, Uren cracked into a smile as he recounted the bizarre circumstances that led to his departure. Uren had just signed a three-year contract with Bristol Bears before the Treviso-based side arrived with an offer that would guarantee him first-choice action.
“It was a really really big decision for me to move out here, I just ripped up a three-year contract that I was really excited about. I could’ve quite easily played my whole career at Bristol as I’ve got all my friends and family there. Pat was brilliant throughout, Steve Landsdown (Owner), Chris Boyd (Chairman), couldn’t fault any of them. They were all really helpful.”
When asked if it was the right decision, Uren said: “Yeah it was the right decision at this time of my career. With Rands being the vice-captain of Bristol, me coming out here and growing as a player and a person, I loved my time at Bristol, but it was the best time to move on.”
Playing alongside the likes of Paolo Odogwu, Marcus Watson, Malakai Fekitoa and the aforementioned Jacob Umaga, the 27-year-old Bristolian has high hopes for the future of his new club. We’ve had an incredible start to the season and I try to be a big factor in that and try to help the team, and I’m really happy to be doing this.
“The games have probably been too tight, we need to score a few more points, a few more tries, we’ve had the opportunities, but it’s usually down to those one or two last passes, but we’re definitely going in the right direction. Our defence is quality, and the Italian lads have a great hunger, and properly love Benetton so will keep fighting towards the end. We’ve come back a few times from a few points down and we’ve stuck at it and got the win. It’s been close, a bit too close” he joked.
Speaking about his time already in the city, Andy talked us through his Christmas plans, the opportunity to invite family over to Italy for the holidays, and the amazing welcome he has received since arriving.
“The scenery’s amazing, 25 minutes from Venice, around the corner from the markets, it’s a real good location”, he said when asked for his favourite aspect of Treviso. “For me though, the weather during the summer is class when you can walk around the city in shorts and T-shirts all the time. All the Italian lads have all been class and welcomed me in as well.”
Finally, it had to be asked: Will you ever return to play for Bristol?
“Never say never” was the answer.
He added that for the next couple of years at the very least, however, it’s Benetton that Andy Uren will be striving for greatness with.