Heriot’s coach Phil Smith is bracing himself for a leap into the unknown as he takes his men on an Italian adventure in Biella tonight.
As Scottish champions, the Goldenacre side have earned the opportunity to pit themselves against Italy Emerging, a team drawn largely from the Eccellenza Championship, the domestic club competition. The challenge will be played over two legs, with the return match at Goldenacre next Saturday.
“We are very honoured to be participating in this inaugural fixture with our Italian counterparts,” said Smith. “We very much see it as an opportunity to showcase the Scottish Premiership and hope we are able to do the league proud.”
The initial plan had been for the champions of Scotland and Italy to meet. However, the Italian Federation has taken the opportunity to bring together players with the potential to play international rugby in future.
Smith has remained loyal to his club stalwarts, resisting the temptation to pack his side with the club’s professional players who would have been made available by Edinburgh Rugby. Only hooker George Turner, who has been a regular for Heriot’s this season, is a full timer.
The Italians have selected a strong squad that features three full internationalists in the shape of Enrico Bacchin, who played in last year’s World Cup, Sebastian Negri and Alberto Chillon, as well as 13 others who are members of the Italian rugby academy.
Five players ply their trade with league leaders Pataro Calvisano, while two play abroad and one, Luca Sperandio, is with Guinness PRO12 outfit Benetton Treviso.
The Italians are coached by former international hooker Carlo Orlandi, who sees the match as an opportunity for the future stars of Italian rugby to showcase their talents.
And Smith is encouraging his men to take the field with the intention of playing open rugby.
“While very much going into the unknown in respect of our opposition, we will be looking to continue where we have left off recently in the league with a free flowing game plan that will see us attempting to put pressure on our opposition on all areas of the pitch,” he said.
“It’s great for the club. It’s an opportunity for us to take a few boys and it keeps us playing during the international window.”