Never in a millions years would Monty Ioane have imagined he’d become a rugby hero in Italy last weekend. All he knew growing up in Melbourne was that the sport was played there in a some small capacity, but he’s now fully vested in the exploits of Treviso who have shaken up the PRO14 by qualifying for a quarter-final next Saturday at Munster.
Following a dissatisfactory two-year spell at Stade Francais, Ioane had sworn himself off ever playing in Europe again. However, a phone call out the blue from Kieran Crowley changed all that and the minnow club’s history-making exploits since then have only added to his burgeoning reputation as a finisher to be feared.
Benetton had an ugly status for consistently losing. In 2015/16 alone, they lost 19 of 22 matches, collected a meagre 20 points and finished rock bottom of the PRO12, a whopping 53 points behind table-topping Leinster.
Now, with that gap reduced just 19, they are a side to be taken very seriously. Beating struggling Zebre might not look much on paper, but Treviso’s achievement last Saturday was the culmination of years of hard work.
It was rather fitting, though, that their play-off clinching bonus try was scored in the corner in Parma by Ioane, a signing who has lit up Benetton’s participation in the league with his 13 tries.
(Continue reading below…)
We sent Jim Hamilton to chat with Treviso coach Marius Goosen in what has been an amazing season for the Italian team in this season's PRO14 Rugby
Posted by RugbyPass on Monday, 29 April 2019
The 24-year-old Australian has played 29 PRO14 games since his low-key arrival in Italy in December 2017 from New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty and his strike rate is incredible – 18 wins, two draws and just nine defeats.
No wonder he not only revelled in last weekend’s qualification celebrations, he’s now heading for Limerick convinced the Italians are capable of upsetting the Champions Cup semi-finalists.
“We will look at this game as an opportunity,” he told RugbyPass. We are the underdogs, which is a good thing for us. It’s always good being the underdog, but we’re definitely going there to win. We not just, ‘Okay, we made the play-offs and it’s going to end there’. We have set the mindset to attack and score tries. We’re ready to win.”
The Quarter Finals of the #GUINNESSPRO14 Championship are set! ?
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) April 27, 2019
This fighting talk typifies the positivity flowing through a rejuvenated club where all that seems to be missing is some form of a celebratory song to hail their now regular victories. “There isn’t one that I’m aware of. We can’t say we have really sung anything in the changing room.”
This lack of an anthem, though, didn’t dampen jubilation in Parma. “It was amazing going into the changing rooms knowing that we had achieved our goal. It had been a long process, but we finally did it.
“I haven’t been at Benetton for a long time but just you could see the emotion in a lot of the players’ faces. It was definitely something to be proud of. Even on the way back home as well, the boys just couldn’t help I won’t say celebrate by drinking, they were just happy that it wasn’t the end to our season.
— Benetton Rugby ? (@BenettonRugby) April 29, 2019
“Just to be able to play for something, that was why there was a huge crowd with everyone knowing the rivalry between the two teams – them not wanting us to go through and us wanting to go through. For Italian rugby it was just amazing.
“The goal was always step by step, working week in week out trying to achieve results. We didn’t get wins in every game but as long as we were seeing progression in the team during the week and in the games, we knew we were heading in the right direction after the past two seasons.
“Before arriving I had obviously heard what the team was like and from other teams, the kind of respect they were not giving Benetton, so it’s nice to know that this year we are contenders and we’re not a walk in the park anymore.
“For us to achieve an awesome result like this has definitely changed the eyes of Italians and the mentality as well. It’s still a work in progress and it’s not easy, but it’s rewarding, especially for the guys who have been here for a long time. I was lucky to arrive at the right time, I guess.”
It was Crowley, the 1987 World Cup winner, who convinced him a second stint in Europe wouldn’t be all that bad. Having moved to Brisbane at the age of 16 to live with his uncle, Australian international Digby Ioane, the pair wound up together in Paris at Stade Francais.
He made just a single Top 14 appearance in August 2014 before trying his luck in New Zealand at provincial level with Tasman and Bay of Plenty. Then came the life-changing call.
“It was pretty much out of the blue. It had come up a couple of times from my agent, but I never had the plan to come back to Europe. I’d been in France for two seasons and felt like I didn’t grow there, but wherever you go it’s always going to be tough and it was a tough time for me in Paris. I was 18 at the time and just trying to adapt to a whole new lifestyle.
“I went over at a really young age. I don’t know if I was ready but I ended up going anyway and it was all a learning experience. Maybe it’s the wrong word if I say that I didn’t grow as a player. Maybe I did because being there was one of my hardest times. In that way it helped me grow up.
“Benetton just randomly happened and I could never look back on the decision (with regret) because it’s probably one of the best decisions I have made. It was definitely Kieran. He gave me a call and I spoke to him for a good hour before making the decision and I could see what he wanted to make the team work.
È ORA DI RUGGIRE! ? pic.twitter.com/yrioTBMpiz
— Benetton Rugby ? (@BenettonRugby) April 27, 2019
“A mate of mine, Whetu Douglas, was telling me that they had improved quite a lot and then the end result was me being here. It was definitely one of the best decisions because Treviso has helped me grow as a player.
“I would never have thought I would have ended up here in Italy for rugby. Living in Australia I didn’t think it had a very big following. Being able to play in the PRO14 is an amazing thing, but the lifestyle and the change in the way they play rugby here is what also attracted me.
“Kieran is obviously a Kiwi so being able to play the New Zealand style of game, it wasn’t new to me. Italians were adapting to his style of play with a bit of flair of their own, but it’s nothing new to me which is what excites me the most and it has brought the best out of me.
“The good thing about Treviso is that you are able to drive on a weekend. You can go up to Milan or different cities which is quite good for my family (two young Australian-born girls) because they love the whole European lifestyle. It’s amazing for them and it’s all new.”
Uncle Digby is now be making his living in Japan, but the line of communication is still strong and, who knows, the family could be celebrating an Italian Test cap if Ioane, who qualifies under residency in December 2020, continue to impress.
“To be honest there is no decision made or anything like that. I’ve just been trying to focus on playing my best footy for Treviso. I don’t really look at it like that,” he said.
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) April 27, 2019
“He [Digby] gives me messages here and there. He’s quite proud I wouldn’t say of how far I have come but of how I have been going lately. He still gives tips here and there. He still thinks he is faster than me, so he says.
“I’m happy with what I’m doing, but I put it down to all the work by the team. I do the easy stuff after they do the hard work and they are making my job a lot easier. But to score a try just to seal it off against Zebre, it was definitely a memorable moment in an amazing season where we have had many moments like that.”
Now for a sequel in Limerick.
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