Delighted Stephen Varney wins first full cap for Italy

Stephen Varney spreads ball out wide


Stephen Varney – Italian international rugby player from Rhoshill, Pembrokeshire!

Stephen Lorenzo VarneyStephen Varney hails from the small village of Rhoshill, just south of Cardigan but at this very moment the 19 year old is in Italy, having played scrum half for the Italian national team that pushed Scotland so hard yesterday.
It was fitting reward as he came on in the last 24 minutes, after missing out on a full rugby cap with The Azzurri because of the coronavirus, but is now back in training with the Italian squad in readiness for the rest of the Autumn Nations Cup.
It was also a wonderful moment for his parents Adrian and Valeria, and the rest of his family, who are immensely proud of his achievement, with the only sadness being the fact that they were unable to watch the match live

Remarkable rise to the top level

His story is all the more remarkable because he is only 19 years of age and has already played for Italy at under 18 and under 20 levels and his performances at Hartpury College and the Gloucester RFC Academy have already seen him play at scrum half for Gloucester in the English Premiership, scoring tries at Kingsholm and already receiving excellent reviews for his maturity way beyond his age from around the base of the scrum.
Stephen has received massive recognition whilst at Hartpury College, winning the elite rugby player of the year and coaches’ player of the year during his final year. He became the youngest player to play in the English Rugby Championship at 17 years old against Bedford Blues and Cornish Pirates.

So just how did Stephen come to play rugby for Italy?

His father Adrian, born and bred from Newport from a long line of North Pembrokeshire Varneys’ was a gifted flanker from 1987 to 1994 with the outstanding Neath team that also included Kevin Phillips, Brian Williams and John Davies which terrorised clubs all over the UK and beyond with their powerful play.
His mother Valeria was born of Italian parent’s in this country and her grandfather had been a prisoner-of-war from Italy in the Henllan Camp at Newcastle Emlyn and settled in the area afterwards with his family moving over from Italy.
Stephen would be the first to highlight their fantastic support and credits dad with his skills which they spent many hours developing as he went through the junior set up at Crymych RFC and helped Ysgol y Preseli to victory in the Welsh under 16s Final at Parc Y Scarlets Stadium in 2017.

Stephen Varney - Crymych U16s

Other sport

Outside of his passion for rugby, Stephen also enjoyed football and golf at junior level as he started out with Pembrokeshire School’s squads at 11 that were coached by Angie Nicholls.
“I played goalkeeper and enjoyed the cup matches across South Wales alongside the likes of Alaric Jones (now doing really well at Haverfordwest County),  plus Jake Merry and Camron Thomas (looking good at senior level with Hakin United).
“I also played for two or three years with Boncath FC’s junior squad that was coached by my father Adrian and another very good rugby player in Matthew Hill but in the end I needed to concentrate on one winter sport and for me rugby was the obvious choice.”

Scarlets’ disappointment for Stephen was Hartpury’s and Gloucester’s gain

Stephen Varney - celebrates scoring for GloucesterBack on the oval ball game, Stephen did receive a call up by The Scarlets West as part of their Pathway Scheme but somehow slipped through the net after only a couple of games and was so disappointed he gave up the game for a while and focussed on golf, where he played regularly with dad and reckons that he eventually had the edge on Varney Senior!
Stephen soon reduced his handicap to 16 and admits that the father and son duo were soon dubbed as ‘The Rhoshill Bandits’ at Cardigan Golf Club, and he also won the Dyfed schoolboy championship!
But Stephen returned to the oval ball game when he was invited to study Sport Science at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire, which is renowned for its outstanding sports facilities and traditionally has a terrific rugby team.
He was soon back in the thick of things and played for the first team that played in the elite college’s competitions and came a creditable second in both the years he played with Richard Whiffin and Alex Guest as coaches.
“I learned a lot from them on a whole range of rugby-related matters whilst performance guru Kevin Mannion really helped me a great deal in thinking outside the box.”
He attracted the attention of Gloucester RFC’s Academy Section, which obviously has strong links with Hartpury, and this was a giant step in terms of pace, skill levels and physicality – and when Stephen was drafted in to the senior squad by head coach George Skivington he made his debut for the Cherry and Whites and so far has scored four tries from seven matches, as well as the bonus of training closely with international players like half back partner Danny Cipriani and Willie Heinz.


A real impact made at international level

On the Italian front, he was invited out for a training camp in Treviso at under 18 level and made his debut against France in Paris and showed his awareness of adapting to different situations that was way above his relative experience.
Stephen made an impact against Wales at that level as he came off the bench and grabbed two tries to help The Azzurri to a 34-13 victory at Gloucester’s Kingsholm Ground in the final game of the Six Nations Festival for that age group.
“It was an emotional match for me,” admitted Stephen, “and to score two tries was a great feeling” – whilst in that same competition he came on as a replacement against Scotland and played the full 80 minutes against France, this time at Worcester’s Sixways Stadium.
Not content with that success, he then took on the land of his father with the Italian under 20s at Colwyn Bay in January 2020 and played so well in another win that he received the man of the match award.

Stephen Varney - Italy Under 20sLate disappointment for Stephen at the top level – but he’s soon bounced back

But the biggest selection for Italy came in this year’s Six Nations Championship when he was called into their senior squad to take on Ireland and England but on arrival to the training camp he was found to have contracted Covid 19 and although he was asymptomatic so wasn’t unwell he was forced to drop out of contention and had to isolate for ten days.
But the good news is that Stephen is going to stay involved at this level because he has again been selected for the Italian squad in The Autumn Nations Cup against Scotland, Fiji and France on the 14th, 21st and 28th of November respectively. Being named on the bench for the first game against Scotland this Saturday and subsequently gained his first cap coming off the bench with 25 minutes left to play.


And finally . . .

Stephen Varney’s rise to international level has been nothing short of meteoric and is a tribute to his total commitment to his chosen sport alongside his natural attributes as a scrum half.
That he is so well-grounded at such a young age is also due in no little measure to his maturity beyond his tender years but this has been shaped by total family support that has always been there since he first passed a rugby ball around the family garden with dad Adrian and with encouragement from mum Valeria and brothers Alex, David and Christopher.
These attributes are bound to pay dividends and we at wish him every success for what hopefully will be a long and rewarding career in the game!