Italian rugby international Bianca Coltellini says studying A-levels and training at Hartpury changed her life – on and off the pitch.
Bianca’s top priority after leaving school in Italy was to find a successful institution abroad that would allow her to develop as a rugby player in a professional environment while still continuing her education.
“It is quite common for people in Italy to go abroad to learn another language and experience another culture,” explained Bianca.
“As I was playing for a local under-16s girls’ rugby team at the time, my dad suggested that I should find somewhere that had a good rugby set-up, as well as achieving good academic results.
“On the internet, randomly, he came across the results of the Rosslyn Park National Schools Sevens and he saw that Hartpury had won every game by miles – we knew then that we’d found the right place for me!”
Alongside completing A-levels in Chemistry, Art and Psychology, Bianca made giant strides in her rugby career while coming through the women’s rugby programme at Hartpury.
She was named captain of the Italy Under-18s sevens team and battled from back injury to play for the senior sevens team in a Hong Kong Sevens qualifier.
In February, she was selected to play for the senior Italy women’s team in the Six Nations, emulating two other players with Hartpury links, Seb Negri and Jake Polledri, who made their Six Nations bow in the Italy men’s team.
“Making my Six Nations debut against France was absolutely amazing,” said Bianca. “When they played the national anthem I was on the verge of crying – I was so emotional.
“I started the game on the replacements’ bench, but five minutes into the second half the manager told me to get warmed up because I was going on.
“All sorts of emotions were going through my head – excitement, panic – and for the first few minutes my head just wasn’t there.
“Even my friends said, ‘Bianca, what were you doing when you went on!’. It was a fantastic experience, though, and just thinking about it makes me feels so happy.
“Looking ahead, I’d like to play in next year’s Six Nations and win a place in the new professional sevens squad that the Italian Rugby Federation are due to announce at the start of next year.”
Bianca, who also plays for the Gloucester-Hartpury women’s rugby team, reflected upon how she grew as a person and as a player during her time at Hartpury.
“Hartpury completely changed the way I looked at rugby,” she said.
“When I was in Italy it was just a hobby, so I would go training only twice a week and that was it.
“Coming to Hartpury turned me into a professional player, an athlete. We trained two, three times a day, I was looking after my nutrition and we had a sports psychologist.
“The way the programme is organised means you can become the best you can and there’s nothing standing in the way of your success – you just have to put in the work.
“It certainly made me enjoy the sport even more and helped me grow as a person as well as a rugby player.
“I think it helped me become much more independent – my family and all my friends are still in Italy.
“I learned how to look after myself, get used to a different culture and, of course, learned English as well – that’s going to help me so much in the future career.”
Picture: Bianca Coltellini at Hartpury