Italy ace Seye relishing English family reunion in TikTok Women's Six Nations

·5-min read
Seye, 22, made her dream debut for the Azzurre in September’s World Cup qualifiers
Seye, 22, made her dream debut for the Azzurre in September’s World Cup qualifiers

There was something of a family reunion for Italy tighthead Sara Seye when she faced England in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations – after all it was in England that she really found her rugby footing.

The 22-year-old left her mountain town of Gardone Val Trompia after school and flew to England to study at Worthing College, and her exploits for the team caught the eye of Wasps director Giselle Mather who drafter her into the Premier 15s side to train alongside future internationals.

It was a steep learning curve, but Red Roses rising star Maud Muir and Ireland hooker Cliodhna Moloney supported Seye like family as she broke through in the Premier15s before her England adventure was cut short by the pandemic.

The prop made her dream debut for the Azzurre in September’s World Cup qualifiers, but she never forgot her Wasps teammates, and when the Red Roses travelled to Parma in Round Two of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, Seye found herself crouching opposite a familiar face.

Recalling the moment, Seye said: “Maud Muir was the loosehead prop so we actually met in the scrum. We smiled at each other, which was a little bit strange, but I felt so much joy to see us both playing there.

“When you’re going into a championship like the Six Nations, and you see the girls you played alongside it’s a good feeling every time.

“Maudy asked if I was thinking about going back to England. I’d love to do it again, it was an amazing experience and helped me get where I am now.”

Seye doesn’t underestimate the value of the friendships she forged, especially given the damning review published on Tuesday following hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate’s admission she had a breakdown on the Black Ferns' December tour.

That brought the subject of mental health to the fore in women’s rugby, with Tuesday’s review criticising a culture that leaves players afraid to speak out lest it impact their selection.

For Seye the time in England was an eye-opening one beyond simply the rugby.

She explained: “In the beginning it was intimidating. I don’t like speaking about my problems and I thought because you have to be strong on the field you can only show your strong side.

“But the biggest thing I learned was you can talk to your teammates. They’re always there for you, and we’re all human so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

“We became like a family on and off the field. Giselle texted and asked if everything was okay during Covid, and before we played England to say I hope you have a great game. It’s the family you create in rugby.”

The Azzurre have Seye’s mother to thank for the tighthead’s evolution from seven-a-side flanker to fifteen-a-side prop after she told her daughter Worthing was an opportunity too good to miss, but the national team have not been the only beneficiaries of skills learnt on British shores.

When she returned to Lombardy, she set about creating a women’s fifteens’ team that has already grown from a handful of friends to competing in the Italian league.

Reflecting on her development, Seye said: “I learnt so much about fifteens because in Italy I only played sevens. I’ve had to change positions a lot, I was a flanker, then second row. They tried me at hooker but saw my throwing and said no way, now I’m a prop.

“In England fifteens is a culture and you feel the culture when you’re there. I’m from a small town, and not many girls play, so we started a team from scratch.

“There were seven of us and then 25. I don't know how to be honest. We have to play 80 minutes straight because we don’t have a bench and the fifteens is not always competitive, but that means you can enjoy playing and learning.”

When Seye isn’t founding rugby clubs or training with the national team, she’s analysing budgets on her finance degree, hoping to work as an accountant between weekends scrummaging.

This week the FIR announced it was putting 25 players on part-time contracts, a crucial step towards professionalisation as Italy hope to follow Wales - who have enjoyed a strong start to their TikTok Women’s Six Nations campaign after a similar decision.

As Italy build momentum towards the World Cup, Seye said: “I think going pro is the dream of every athlete. It’s the best thing that can happen because you can focus on your sport without worrying about maintaining yourself.

“My goal for now is to keep training and keep improving at this level. We had a chat after the England game with the head coach, because we are playing Six Nations and we want to do well but we’re also trying out for the future schedule.

“In September we find out who's going to New Zealand. I would really like to have that ticket, but you can’t just say it, you have to prove it.”

The TikTok Women’s Six Nations is more accessible than ever before. To find out how you can watch the Women’s Championship visit: womens.sixnationsrugby.com/tv/

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