Sport Man > Rugby > James Ambrosini: the future of Italian rugby Date posted: November 27, 2012

James Ambrosini:
the future
of Italian rugby

Having already represented Australia at under 20 level James Ambrosini joined Benetton Treviso this Summer with a view to becoming their first choice fly-half.

What’s more he’s Italy-qualified and determined to represent the Azzurri in the Six Nations. Swide interviews the future star of the Italian game. Benetton Treviso, Italy’s top professional rugby club, in the heart of Italy’s rugby heartland Veneto, are one of two Italian sides to play in the Celtic League the Pro12 and the European Heineken Cup. The most succesful club in Italy, they have attracted some of the game’s biggest names to sample rugby culture in Italy such as John Kirwan and Michael Linagh.

Ambrosini moved to Italy, from Australia where he played with Queensland A, to take up a position of fly-half with the Veneto club. The position of fly-half has been perennially problematic since the retirement of Diego Domínquez in 2003, with the lack of an authoritive and creative force at 10 has often undone the forceful work of Italy’s world class tight five. Italy have invested in Ambrosini and Italian boss Jacques Brunel believes he could provide the answer to Italy’s problem position.


Welcome back to Italy. You have made the move all the way from Australia in what could hopefully be a long-term move for you, how do you like it so far?

I am really enjoying everything Italy has to offer so far both on and off the rugby field. All the staff and players at Benetton have been really great in helping me settle in – it is a really good environment to surround yourself in.

What are main difference between living in Italy and Australia?

The whole lifestyle itself is quite different when comparing Italy and Australia. In Australia, “siesta” is not really something that is a part of Australian Culture, but I am certainly enjoying that element that comes with living in Italy. Also, when I ask someone a question in English they are always very kind and will try their very best to communicate with you.

How do you identify with your Italian roots and how do you identify with your Australian?

My father Epidio Ambrosini was born in Ari, which is a province of a larger town Chieti in Abruzzi 1957. My Mother is Australian and was born in Brisbane. My father immigrated to Australia and arrived at Hamilton Warf in Brisbane in 1964 with his mother, two older brothers and one sister. My Dad’s father immigrated to Australia two years beforehand, along with his oldest brother.

As an Italian-Australian were you involved with the Italian community over there?

You could imagine my Italian family back home being very big and family orientated so you could say it was a community in itself –  but, no I was not involved in an Italian community as such. My whole family would all get together on various occasions to celebrate birthdays, weddings, communions, etc within the family which was always fun.

Having already represented Australia at under-20 level you have said that you dream of playing in the Six Nations with Italy, why is that?

Ever since I was young I have always dreamt of playing professional rugby of any standard. I loved rugby so much when I was younger that I knew I wanted to play professionally. With my Italian roots I would also dream of playing for the Azzuri in the Six Nations despite representing Australia at Under 20 level. Here in Italy, I already feel at home and the support from Benetton is second to none. I think of this dream as an opportunity for me and will do everything I can to turn that specific dream into reality. However, for me right now my main priority that I am focusing on is to debut for Benetton in the RaboDirec Prot12 competition.

In Italy, rugby is very much a minority sport, (except of course in Veneto) does it feel different to rugby culture in Australia?

The Italian people in Treviso make the rugby culture feel similar to that of Australia. The Treviso people are crazy about Rugby and you can see they have respect for the sport. If anything I do not think Rugby Union is a minority sport in Treviso, you could say the rugby culture here is somewhat stronger than the rugby culture in Australia. Judging by the overwhelming support and fans that Benetton attract to Stadio Monigo from Treviso and all over Italy proves that Italians are very passionate and take pride in the Biancoverde Lione.

When I read Gazzetta dello Sport, it’s 90% football and maybe one small article on rugby at the back. How can Italy grow the popularity of the game here?

If you wanted my advice on increasing the popularity of Rugby Union in Italy I would suggest having Rugby Union played at all schools in Italy so student’s have a taste of what the sport is all about. I would also introduce more opportunities for semi-professional players, to increase the popularity growth through implementing academies for Benetton and Zebre (B teams) and also other professional team’s (Excellenza, Serie A) around Italy to provide more depth and the opportunity for more player’s to be selected in representative teams.

Rugby has exploded in popularity here in the last decade and I think that’s down to Italy’s participation in the Six Nations, but the club game has a long way to go in terms of support, how can we turn it around?

As I said above, implementing senior “B” teams for the Benetton and Zebre team as well as semi-professional teams around Italy will definitely enhance the support of the club game. It gives more player’s something to play for as well as provide an opportunity to show case what they have to offer. This of course comes hand-in-hand with financial assistance from somewhere, whether it is funded from the Italian Rugby Union or the Clubs themselves is something to consider.

Some have suggested that the ‘over-protective Italian Mama’ may be a barrier to many young boys taking up the game. What would you say to some one who complains that the game is too violent?

You either want to play a physical sport or you don’t. I love the aggression and physicality that comes with playing Rugby Union. I guess it is all up to the kid at the end of the day and not the mother – if the young boy loves rugby and wants to play, you cannot stop him because it is “violent”. The “over-protective Italian Mamas” are everywhere in the world and not just in Italy. All those people who do not want to play rugby union due to the physicality and “violence” so to speak can choose a non contact sport such as football.

Can you describe the strengths and weaknesses of your game?

My biggest strengths would be my organisational and distributional skills. I love playing fly-half because I enjoy the creativity and setting up opportunities for players inside and outside me and also for myself. I have also been working really hard on my kicking game but it still needs a lot of work. You can never stop improving your game and although these may be strengths I will still work on these elements of my game regularly to keep on improving and bettering myself.

My main weaknesses at the moment would have to be my explosiveness into contact and the distance I kick the ball. I am working hard on furthering the length of my kicking in general play and for line with Franco Smith and Marius Goosen.

How does the Northern game differ from the Southern game in how it is played?

I must admit Northern hemisphere rugby is very physical in both defence and attack, however the speed of the game may be a little slower in comparison to Southern hemisphere rugby. 

How has the standard of the Pro12 impressed you so far?

All teams are of a very good standard in the Pro12 competition. Every team in the competition has players in the side that represent their respective country so of course the standards are high. Each game has been a very close battle for Benetton Treviso so we must continue to work hard at training so we can win more games.

Treviso have started very well, beating Ospreys, holding Munster to only one try in Thomand Park and coming within a point of Leinster, what is that down to?

Yes. We started our season very well, however, the difference between winning and losing those games came down to lack of execution and unforced errors. We have plenty of opportunities each week to put points on the board, however we sometimes make it hard for ourselves and don’t capitilise on the opportunities that are presented to us to the best of our ability. In saying this, we have been working very hard at training in order to minimise the mistakes and play a more controlled game where we are able to capitilise and score trys.

You are behind Kris Burton and Di Bernardo, who have both played very well, in the pecking order. How can you push them for a starting place?

They are both very talented players and I have a lot of respect for them both as players and as people. Personally, I have a few important things to work on in my game in order to push them for a starting place. I must continue to improve my game and learn the style of game Franco is teaching at Benetton in order to be selected. He likes to play a direct style of rugby and I’m buying into his philosophy each week, so if I continue to work as hard as I can at training, I hope Franco will give me an opportunity when the time is right.

You are the nephew of AC Milan legend Massimo Ambrosini…. I take it you support Milan then?

HAHA This is not true. I’m not sure who made this rumour up. To be honest the team I support is Juventus. I play with Juventus on playstation 3 in FIFA13.

Do you make it to the San Siro?


Obviously there is a tradition of football-playing in your family…. why did you choose rugby?

I started off playing football when I was 6-8 years of age then I changed to Rugby when my best friend invited me to a rugby union training session with him and that was the end of kicking the round ball for me.

Does your uncle watch the oval-ball game? 

Again. He is not my Uncle but I am sure Massimo Ambrosini would enjoy watching a game of Rugby. You might have to ask him yourself for that answer!

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