Kieran Crowley has announced the departure of eight players from his Benetton Treviso roster ahead of the targeted late August resumption of the Guinness PRO14, a list that includes Italian Test centurion Alessandro Zanni and fellow Azzurri internationals Dean Budd and Ian McKinley. 

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Zanni, the 36-year-old back row who earned 119 caps between 2005 and last February, is retiring from playing but will now join the club’s strength and conditioning staff. However, while he will stay on at Treviso in a different role, it’s the end of the Benetton journey for seven other players, some of whom also have a huge amount of experience. 

Budd, whose exit from Benetton coincides with his retirement from Test rugby, made 115 appearances for the club, four less than Marco Fuser, another second row. Hooker Engjel Makelara, back row Nasi Manu, out-halves McKinley and Antonio Rizzi, and scrum-half Tito Tebaldi are the other players on the exit list.

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RugbyPass takes a trek through Italian rugby in Rugby Explorer, stopping off at Treviso along the way

Benetton rugby director Antonio Pavanello said: “I thank all the players who are preparing to leave the club for the years spent in Treviso and for the contribution they have made to the club in order to achieve the seasonal objectives.

“A special mention for Alessandro, Dean and Marco who have played over 100 appearances. In particular, a new chapter will open for Zanni within our family.

“We will accompany him along his course of study, inserting him within the staff of the physical trainers of the first team and the youth teams, giving him the opportunity to learn a lot and be aware of the important experience that he can make available to the group.”

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Budd, the New Zealander who won 29 Test caps between June 2017 and February 2020, said: “I want to thank all Italian rugby for these eight years spent together. When I arrived from Japan in 2012, I would never have dreamed of being able to live the fantastic adventure that Italy put me on my way to. 

“I’m proud to have represented this country internationally, to have had the privilege of being captain of the national team in a World Cup match, of having played with Benetton in a historic qualification for the Guinness PRO14 quarter-finals.

“The last few months have changed the lives of all of us. It’s the right time to look forward to what life has in store for me and my family.”

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Budd told RugbyPass last year about the grief he overcame to play for the Azzurri in their opening match of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations. “Pete is my step-dad, he was there as my second dad since I was 15. He was there when I came away and played for New Zealand under-19s in South Africa, and every trip he could be on he was there to support me.

“That was one of the reasons why I came back. On his deathbed, his words were: ‘Get your f***ing arse on the plane because I want to see you out there playing against Scotland.’ He was having none of it [feeling sorry]. He wanted me out there playing rugby. It was the hardest promise I had to keep for him.”

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