Wasps head coach Lee Blackett praised ‘brave’ Matteo Minozzi for opting out of this year’s Six Nations, and revealed the star’s journey to making that decision.
The 24-year old has played only 36 minutes of club rugby this season with all three appearances coming off the bench. Regardless of his domestic form, Minozzi was a certainty to be named in the Italy squad having scored 11 tries in 22 Test appearances since making his debut in 2017.
However, the fullback ruled himself out of a fourth international break in just 16 months at Wasps when he announced via Instagram he was ‘mentally and physically tired’ with yo-yoing between club and country commitments.
“You’ve got to be very brave,” said Blackett. “Fair play to him, because a lot of people would’ve felt like they’ve got to do it and worried about losing their place in the future.
“For me personally if I had to go into that situation and not see my family for six, seven weeks I’d find it ridiculously hard.”
Long time coming
Blackett revealed he had spoken to the fullback eight weeks ago before the topic resurfaced recently with the Six Nations looming.
“This isn’t just something he has thought of overnight and is being emotional with it,” said the Wasps boss. “He has thought long and hard and you’ve got to give him a lot of credit for someone that age to be so certain of this and know what’s best for him at this time.
“We put him on the bench for a couple of weeks then we gave him two weeks’ rest cause we felt he needed a mid-season break, so for us we tried to give him that by allowing him two weeks back in Italy.
“We tried to really look after him but really over those two weeks we just said about going away and thinking about the best decision for him.”
Minozzi exploded onto the scene in the 2018 Six Nations when his dazzling performances earned him a place in the Team of the Tournament.
He would suffer a major knee injury in the first weekend of the following season and midway through his rehabilitation, Wasps announced he was heading to the Ricoh Arena.
More than a year after suffering his ACL rupture and without appearing for Zebre again, Minozzi was thrust into the 2019 Rugby World Cup. After which he teamed up with his new club.
Pretty emotional time
“He’s gone into Italy as a young guy, all of a sudden everyone knows about him in the world,” said Blackett. “His first Six Nations he tore it up. Then he gets a serious injury and he’s out for a full year. A career-ending injury. Anybody who has had a long injury will know how emotional that is.
“To then go and work ridiculously hard to get yourself to a World Cup to then move countries, then all of a sudden go into a lockdown with none of your family around and you’re locked down in a different country, it’s a pretty emotional time.
“To then get up and work ridiculously hard on your game and get yourself to a Premiership final, come out on the wrong side and then go straight from having that disappointment straight to Italy. There has been a lot of pulling him left, right and centre and there’s a lot of emotion gone into it.
“When you put all that together, you can understand why he has come to the conclusion he has come to and has said enough is enough for the time being.”
Callum Braley, Guglielmo Palazzani, Stephen Varney, Tommaso Allan, Carlo Canna, Paolo Garbisi, Mattia Bellini, Juan Ignacio Brex, Monty Ioane, Federico Mori, Luca Sperandio, Jacopo Trulla, Marco Zanon
Pietro Ceccarelli, Danilo Fischetti, Marco Riccioni, Daniele Rimpelli, Cherif Traore, Giosuè Zilocchi, Luca Bigi, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Marco Manfredi, Niccolò Cannone, Riccardo Favretto, Marco Lazzaroni, David Sisi, Cristian Stoian, Michele Lamaro, Maxime Mbanda, Johan Meyer, Sebastian Negri, Federico Ruzza
Additional invited players (5)
Michelangelo Biondelli, Tommaso Boni, Renato Giammarioli, Tommaso Menoncello, Marcello Violi
Wasps face Harlequins on Sunday in the Gallagher Premiership. While Blackett said Minozzi is available for selection, the likelihood is his next playing opportunity might come a little further down the line.
“He feels more refreshed at the moment and he’ll be available for selection, no matter where we go with it,” he said. “So look, he’s available this week if we need him.”
Blackett also pointed out this is not the end for Minozzi at international level. He added: “We’re going to try and manage him through this period and I’m sure this won’t be the last time we see him in Italy colours, I’m sure after he’s had this break he’ll be flying back.”