Reincarnations don’t come more surprising than Herons turning into Zebras over the course of a summer but in Italy the disbandment of Aironi and the birth of Zebre has been a swift transition.
And speed will continue to be of the essence for Zebre this season as a new coaching staff, which includes legendary Italian scrum-half Alessandro Troncon, finds its feet in the RaboDirect PRO12.
The club’s playing squad has a more familiar feel to it with a heavy number of former Aironi (Italian for Herons) players having made the 25-kilometre hop from the Stadio Zaffanella in Viadana to the Zebre’s home at the Stadio XXV Aprile in Parma.
But captain Marco Bortolami insists that despite the likes of Tito Tebaldi, Luciano Orquera, Mauro Bergamasco and Quintin Geldenhuys all following suit in exchanging their Aironi wings for Zebra print, there is a distinct new flavour to the club.
According to the 32-year-old former Italy and Gloucester captain, that stems from the number of youngsters in the squad and he’s backing them to show their worth in the RaboDirect PRO12.
“It’s been a very quick change,” admitted Bortolami. “But I think the whole team has gelled together really quickly so we are very positive.
“There’s a big block of players coming from Aironi, including a lot of young players with a lot of enthusiasm but there’s still a good deal of experience.
“It’s a fresh start for everyone but I think we still have to try and bring all the positive stuff we had with Aironi to this team and with fresh air and energy we’ll try and build on that.
“We’ll try to play an expansive game. Obviously the basics are very important, the scrum the lineout, but especially with the young players and their enthusiasm we will try to play an expansive game.
“There is a group of players coming from the national academy and the national competition and what they’ll have to do is learn as quick as possible how to perform at their best day after day.
“They will have more game time than in the past so that’s the opportunity to develop quickly and raise their chances for the national team.”
While Zebre’s young guns like full-back Ruggero Trevisan, hooker Andrea Manici (both 22) and centre Alberto Benettin (21) may have their eye on pressing their case for international recognition, Bortolami, who has won 88 Test caps, is more focused on his domestic duties.
“It’s a big challenge (being captain) and it’s not going to be easy,” he added.
“It’s very demanding but that’s the challenge I have got in front of me.
“Me and the other experienced players have to play as well as we can but also give the young players confidence and also to make them recognise the standards that are required for this league. With the coaches we have we can do a very good job.
“We have already done that in the first two months work so we have to be positive, we are positive.
“The first game is not going to be easy though. Newport away is always a tough place to go but it’s a good opportunity to learn what our spirit is and how hard we want to play and fight from day one. It’s going to be tough but also interesting.”