Newcastle Falcons lock Carlo del Fava has played in virtually all of the best leagues in Europe, but cannot wait to finally get a crack at the Aviva Premiership.
The 32-year-old, capped 54 times by Italy in an eight-year international career, has previously packed down in the Celtic League with Ulster, the French Top 14 with Bourgoin and the Italian league with Viadana and Aironi.
Now set to hit England’s top flight after helping the Falcons win the RFU Championship, Del Fava said: “I can’t wait to play in the Premiership. I am just so excited about it.
“I have played all over the world, but I have always wanted a go at the Premiership. I am relishing the fact we will be up against top-class sides every week, and I truly believe it is the hardest club league in Europe.”
Man of the match in the first leg of the Championship final at Bedford and a key component in the second, the South African-born forward said: “It was a great feeling to get promotion after such a long season.
“Honestly, it was the best feeling I have ever experienced on a rugby field throughout my whole career.
“The build-up, how we had to work for it and the camaraderie. It was just pure rugby, if you understand what I mean, and a great feeling that it has all ended with the title and promotion.”
Now back in pre-season ahead of the Falcons’ Premiership assault, the well-travelled second row reckons the hard yards at the right times are what helps decide matters at the tail end of the campaign.
He said: “The thing that really stuck out in my mind is how the training was scheduled last season, like giving the guys a week off after Christmas. The day before that break we were taken to the Town Moor for an absolutely brutal hill-running session, but then the week off allowed us to re-energise and stay the distance in a season which has lasted basically a full year, if you factor in all the preparation.
“Getting that hard work done so early in the campaign really paid off and, having gone through that pain in pre-season, it carried us through the calendar. You know what it feels like, and how far you can push yourself. Often that means further than you thought possible, but having done all that in the early months we used that foundation to carry ourselves through the play-offs.”
Resisting the temptation to bask too long in Championship glory when bigger challenges remain around the corner, Del Fava said: “I am so proud of the team. We produced the goods when it really mattered, but it will be hard for us in the Premiership given the quality we will be up against every single week.”
Before the 15-a-side action kicks off there is the small matter of the JP Morgan Premiership Rugby Sevens, with Newcastle finally given a chance to defend the title they won back in 2011.
Denied that opportunity as a result of their relegation, Del Fava laughed at the suggestion that he could be considered for the abbreviated form of the game when the Falcons travel to Northampton on Friday August 2. He joked: “The closest I will be to the sevens squad is if they want me as water-boy!”
Meanwhile, in women’s rugby, Newcastle’s Sarah Hunter is helping plot England’s revenge over New Zealand after Saturday’s 29-10 defeat in Auckland.
An England squad also containing Darlington Mowden Park fly-half Katy McLean gets a second crack at the world-champion Black Ferns tomorrow in Hamilton, before the series finale on Saturday in Pukekohe.