Kaine Robertson believes the introduction of two Italian sides into next season’s Magners League is a massive boost for the national game.
New Zealand-born Robertson, who has won 44 caps for his adopted country, described the decision to welcome Benetton Treviso and Aironi Rugby into the tournament as an ‘awesome’ move.
The introduction of the two Italian sides will see the Magners League increased to 12 teams, with the decision designed to improve both playing standards and commercial viability.
And Robertson, who will represent the newly-formed Aironi Rugby, believes that the introduction will do just that and have a massive impact on the development of the Italian game and the success of the national side.
“It’ll be a big test initially. It’ll be a big step up but, in the long run, I think it will help out Italian rugby immensely,” said Robinson, who currently plies his trade for Viadana,
“It’ll be awesome. Normally, we’re used to playing in front of 500 to, on a good day, 2,000 supporters.
“It’ll help us out on an international level also playing in front of big crowds all the time. It’ll help us get used to it.
“Normally we get into our stride in the Six Nations after two or three games but, hopefully, playing these guys week-in, week-out, we can only get better.
“Playing against guys lower than you means you’re pretty much not going to go anywhere. That’s the same in every sport and in life.”
Robertson admits that succeeding at Magners League level may take a while, particularly for an Aironi side made up of the best players from various clubs within the Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna regions.
But he has no doubt that the move will be hugely beneficial to Italian rugby even during the early stages of their inclusion.
“It took us two or three years to get our performances to a decent level in the Six Nations. I think it will be the same for the Magners League,” added Robertson.
“Treviso will be pretty much the same core of players so their set up will be similar but, for us, we’re amalgamating a few teams so the first year might be a bit bumpy.
“I’d have never thought about this two years ago – I’d have thought you were crazy.
“It’s awesome, especially with the lead up to the World Cup. I think it’s the best timing, a year out from that.”
Robertson also believes the presence of Treviso and Aironi in the Magners League will provide an added incentive to grow the game at grass-roots level.
A production line of sorts has only recently been put into place in the Italian game and Robertson hopes the effects of this step forward at professional level will filter down to the youngsters that will mold the future of the Azzurri.
“The problem in Italy is that the sport doesn’t really exit in schools. That’s quite a difference between Italy and the other rugby-playing countries. The Federation is working hard to push into the schools but it isn’t easy.
“In the last three years, the Federations’ really come through with the academy. Before that we had nothing in Italy. The Federation have invested a lot into the young guys.
“The first group came out last year when they were 21 and a few of them have already played for the Italian team. So it is working – we’ve just got to keep them coming through.”