The president of the Italian rugby federation may not have been impressed by Leonardo Sarto’s move to Glasgow Warriors but the first week at his new home has the former Zebre wing in no doubt he has made the right call.
“It is tough and I am glad it is like this,” said the 24-year-old after his first taste of pre-season training. “The big reason to come is to start to win. Zebre and Italy do not have big results at the moment. It is important to learn to win. To find an objective.
“I am in the first week of pre-season now and it was tougher than I thought it would be. But I am getting used to working with the team and knowing what to expect.”
Italian rugby chief Alfredo Gavazzi made his bizarre comments to local media when the 30-times capped player signed a pre-contract with the Warriors in March. “Those who leave do it for the economics and experience of life. But Glasgow? Come on,” was his strange appraisal of Sarto’s move to the club who were reigning Pro12 champions at the time – comments which Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend expressed his disappointment about.
“Oh I can’t say nothing,” said Sarto with a smile when asked if he had spoken to Gavazzi about his remarks. Sarto becomes the second Italian in the Glasgow squad, joining flanker Simone Favaro. “I wrote to Simone after I signed. This is a big opportunity for me to improve,” he added.
Townsend is certainly happy to to add what he described as “one of Italy’s best players” following Taqele Naiyaravoro’s return to the Waratahs and Glenn Bryce’s move to Edinburgh.
The wing has moved at a time of change for Italian rugby, with Irishman Conor O’Shea replacing Jacques Brunel as Azzurri coach. It follows a season in which an average showing at the World Cup was followed by a Six Nations whitewash, with Treviso and Zebre again propping up the Guinness Pro12 table.
Sarto has spoken to O’Shea and said: “He is very happy [with the move to Glasgow]. He hopes that I will bring a will to win in the team when I am back with them.”
He will be remaining in touch with goings on in Parma as his brother Jacopo is a back-rower at Zebre and, after a difficult period, remains hopeful that the game in his homeland can move forward.
“I hope so,” he said. “There is a new coach in Treviso and Zebre have changed staff so I hope there can be improvement.”
Sarto was part of the Zebre team that stunned Edinburgh with a 19-11 win in Parma earlier last season but hasn’t enjoyed too much success against Caledonian opposition so his move to Scotstoun is very much a case of if you can’t beat them, join them.
His Test debut came against the Scots in Pretoria during the 2013 summer triangular series in South Africa and he has lost all five of the meetings between the teams he has been involved in, missing out on the Azzurri’s win at BT Murrayfield in the 2015 Six Nations.
“There was great improvement for Scotland. They are doing very well,” he said of the recent 36-20 loss to Vern Cotter’s side in Rome.
He also mercifully missed Zebre’s last clash with his new club, which was a record 70-10 rout over the Italians at Scotstoun in late April.
He had, however, featured in the 43-14 home defeat against Townsend’s side earlier that month. “It was a tough game because I had signed for them a month before,” he recalled. “We lost by lot of points but I did score a try.”
Playing for a team that so often struggles in the Pro12 means that he has spent a lot of time defending – that try against Glasgow last season was one of just two in the league – and is relishing the chance to get more on the front foot with his new team.
“For a wing it is an opportunity to get more ball,” he said. “They have great backs and forwards. It’s a great team.”