When the Benetton Treviso duo of Franco Smith and Marius Goosen learned their team would be playing in the Magners League they knew they were about to embark on a journey into the unknown.
They were excited for their players, prepared for a major coaching challenge and ready to justify Italy’s new status in one of the game’s best professional leagues.
For years they helped Treviso dominate the Super 10 tournament as both players and coaches, but a ticket into the Magners League meant a step up for all concerned at the club.
Almost a year on, they can look back on good times and bad, but can rightly feel proud of the impact made by both their own club and Aironi Rugby in their debut season.
“Every game has been like a final for us, but I have seen my players grow in stature almost week by week. I’m immensely proud of the way they have tackled their first season in a professional league and as a group we can’t wait to experience more,” said former Springbok outside-half Smith.
“Everything this season has been new to us and we’ve learned many lessons – some the hard way. We’ve been happy with our form at home, but disappointed at falling short away.
“At the start of the season one of our main goals was to win on the road, but we haven’t managed to beat a team outside of Italy. We’ve been close, but then slipped away.
“It’s all part of the learning curve for this team in the Magners League. We’ve had to get used to travelling, different refereeing styles, different food and different venues.
“The challenges have been many, but the experience has been fantastic. At the start of the season the biggest thing we had to do was get our players used to the new intensity of the matches they were playing.
“But as the season has worn on we have had to get them used to the physical and mental intensity of playing at that level week in, week out. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and I hope we have done the Magners League justice with our efforts.”
Treviso began the season with a win over the Scarlets
Having beaten Munster, Leinster and the Scarlets at home, Smith’s side have shown they are capable of mixing it with the top teams in the league and Team Manager Goosen is expecting further improvements from his players next season.
“We were always expected to win by our fans when we played in the old Italian Super 10 tournament. We played a limited game and could ease up in some games,” explained Goosen, whose side won an incredible eight of 11 home games this term.
“But now we cannot afford to lose concentration for one second. When we have gone to sleep in games, we have been punished and that has led to us losing a number of games that we felt we could have done better in.
“The fans still demand good performances from us and there is a good rugby vibe in our region. Fans are coming to support us from Rovigo and Padova, as well as Treviso, and we are averaging around 5,000 per game.
“It has been a huge step for Italian rugby, but one which can only be good for our game. Now we have to build on our first season and learn from our mistakes.”