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What Italy finally winning has done for Stephen Varney at Gloucester

By Liam Heagney
Italy and Gloucester scrum-half Stephen Varney (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Federugby via Getty Images)

Gloucester boss George Skivington has given his verdict on the very different return of Stephen Varney to the Gallagher Premiership following some rare success with Italy.

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It was the 2020 Autumn Nations Series when the soon-to-be 23-year scrum-half was first capped by the Azzurri but until the last two months, his international adventure wasn’t the kindest as the Italians lost the majority of their matches.

For instance, the recent Rugby World Cup in France ended with pool-stage hammerings by the All Blacks and Les Bleus. However, they enjoyed a tremendous finish to the 2024 Guinness Six Nations, learning from their respective three- and 36-point losses to England and Ireland to draw with France and then beat Scotland and Wales.

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This great improvement in results cruelly wasn’t good enough for a huge surge up the table – their 11-point tally left them finishing in fifth, one point behind the fourth-place Scots and nine adrift of the title-winning Irish.

Varney, who scored a crucial second-half try in the win over Scotland in Rome, was a starter against Ireland and Wales and he brought an added pep in his step back to Gloucester to help them win at Leicester last weekend for the first time in 16 and a half years.

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Allowed to play the entire 80 minutes at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, Varney struck with a late converted try to seal his team’s 27-25 win and it left coach Skivington singing his praises heading into this weekend’s derby at home to Bristol.

Asked by RugbyPass if he has noticed a difference in Varney coming back to Gloucester after Italy had torn it up in the Six Nations, Skivington said: “I’d say he is more buoyant. Our lads enjoy the day-to-day here, but certainly that would have been a big boost.

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“His Italy career until this Six Nations has been pretty tough going and they played really well. He had genuine competition for places in that Six Nations, which is great for him, and he has genuine competition here now as well, which is brilliant.

“He is definitely in fine fettle and in good spirits, and he moved the ball really, really well I thought on Friday night and got that try. He is in a good spot.”

Less than seven weeks before his next birthday, the 22-year-old Varney has packed more than 50 club appearances and 29 Test caps into his short career. However, ensuring he is at the top of his game as often as possible is something that has exercised Skivington.

“It’s a challenge,” he admitted. “I remember when I came in, Steve Varney, Jack Clement, I gave them quite a bit of exposure early on because I thought they were going to be very talented in years to come, and there are a few other young lads.

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“Some lads develop a bit slower. But those two really sort of ran with it, have had a few ups and downs but are still very young and very talented.

“Steve has probably found a good maturity in his game now around when to pass, when to run and the kicking opportunities, he worked very hard on his kicking and he is just growing nicely.

“There is a good balance here at Gloucester of not letting lads get ahead of themselves and think they have cracked it or anything like that. I don’t anticipate from an attitude or anything like that point of view, Steve won’t do anything but get stronger and stronger.

“Any dips in form or anything like that is part and parcel of sport but while Steve is in a good spot and enjoying his rugby, let’s embrace it.”

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